Thomas Jefferson: The Third President (1801-1809)
Thomas Jefferson of Virginia accomplished a lot during his eighty-three years. He was a political thinker, inventor, diplomat, farmer, and president! Today he is remembered for what he wrote in the Declaration of Independence, which said that people had the right to rule themselves. He's also a face on Mount Rushmore.
ALL ABOUT JEFFERSON
NICKNAME: The Sage of Monticello
BIRTH: April 13, 1743; Shadwell Plantation, Goochland (now Albemarle) County, VA
DEATH: July 4, 1826; Monticello estate, VA
YEARS AS PRESIDENT: 1801–1809
SPOUSE: Martha Wayles Skelton (1748–1782)
VICE PRESIDENT: Aaron Burr of New York (1801–1805) and George Clinton of New York (1805–1809)
Born in 1743 to wealthy Southern parents, Thomas Jefferson from his earliest days had two passions: studying nature and reading books on nearly any subject. As he got older, Jefferson had a scientist's natural curiosity about how things work. He studied hard and read about various subjects, such as agriculture, engineering, linguistics, history, and music (he played the violin most of his life). Eventually he decided to become a lawyer, and that helped him to become interested in politics.
Jefferson was married for only ten years. His wife, Martha Wayles Skelton, was a young widow who had just lost her only child to illness when she met Jefferson. They both loved music and would play duets together. She played the harpsichord (which is similar to a piano) and he played the violin. When she died in childbirth in 1782, Jefferson suffered what we today would call a nervous breakdown.
JEFFERSON THE ARCHITECT
Thomas Jefferson wasn't just a president, political thinker, and farmer. He was also a great architect. Jefferson designed his own famous mansion at Monticello and the entire original campus of the University of Virginia!
Professional Career Before Becoming President
Jefferson began to serve as a member of Virginia's House of Burgesses (its colonial legislature) when he was quite young. He also inherited his father's estate before he became an adult, so he was a farmer before he ever tried any other profession. Near the end of his life, Jefferson said that he liked farming the best out of all of the jobs he'd done.
While serving in the Continental Congress in 1776, Jefferson was asked to write the document cutting America's ties to Great Britain. The result was the Declaration of Independence. This document is now one of the most famous in the world!
Jefferson spent part of the American Revolution as governor of Virginia, and after the Revolution he went to France as America's representative there. While in France, Jefferson read a lot, traveled all over, and was exposed to many new scientific and political ideas.
When he returned to America, Jefferson's old friend and fellow Virginian, George Washington, was about to become president and asked Jefferson to serve as the first secretary of state in his cabinet. Because of political disagreements he had with another close friend and advisor of Washington's named Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson eventually resigned as secretary of state. However, he returned to government a couple of years later when he was elected vice president of the United States under President John Adams.
Thomas Jefferson ran for president in 1800. It was the second time he ran, and this time he defeated his old friend John Adams for the office. By this time Jefferson and Adams were no longer friends, and Adams left Washington, D.C., the night before Jefferson's inauguration without even saying goodbye.
Amazing things happened in America while Jefferson was president! Jefferson managed to keep the United States out of the fighting in Europe when Napoleon was trying to take over, and he insisted that America stay out of European politics. He even increased the size of the United States when he bought the Louisiana Territory from France.
Jefferson was not afraid to use the American army and navy if he thought there was a need for it. While he was president, Jefferson sent the American navy to attack pirates from North Africa who were raiding American ships that were trading in the Mediterranean Sea (the water that separates Europe and Africa).
After he arranged the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark out to explore these new territories. The specimens of animals and plants this famous expedition brought back for Jefferson to see and study later served as part of the first collection shown in the Smithsonian Institution!
WORDS TO KNOW
In 1803, Jefferson negotiated with the French government to buy French-claimed land in North America. This was known as the Louisiana Purchase. France, which was ruled by Napoleon, needed money to pay for its war with Great Britain. Jefferson wound up receiving all of the territory that lay between the Mississippi River and Spanish Mexico for $15 million, which equals just three cents per acre. What a bargain!
Library of Congress
In order to pay his debts, Thomas Jefferson placed his large personal library of books up for sale. The U.S. Congress bought them as a favor to a great American, and they became the basis for the book collection we know today as the Library of Congress!
Jefferson was the first president to serve his full term in the White House, which at that time was called the Presidential Mansion. He was pretty informal though. He once answered the door himself when a European ambassador came to call on him. The man assumed at first that Jefferson was a servant, since he answered the door in an old rumpled jacket and a pair of slippers!
Retirement and Death
In 1808 Jefferson honored George Washington's example of a president serving only two terms and did not run for re-election. Instead he returned home to his estate at Monticello and settled into the life of a farmer.
This was not as easy as it sounds though, because Jefferson inherited his father-in-law's debts (as was the custom of the time), and he himself had a bit of a problem with spending too much money. When he died in 1826, he had little left of his personal fortune other than his estate at Monticello.
It is not unusual for a president to receive gifts. Follow the directions to find out what gift President Thomas Jefferson received from the town of Cheshire, MA!
Start at the letter marked with a dot. Jump to the center of the wheel, collecting every other letter, number, or symbol. When you reach the center, jump back out, collecting the letters and symbols you missed. Write the letters, in order, in the empty space below.
During his retirement, Jefferson wrote to friends in America and abroad (including his old friend John Adams in Massachusetts). He died on the fiftieth anniversary of what he always considered his greatest achievement: the signing of the Declaration of Independence.