Thomas Jefferson was thought of by many as one of the most important people in the early development of this great country. Jefferson is also seen as one of the founding fathers of the United States having a major influence in this nation’s early developmental progress. From childhood Jefferson was well educated and a very driven person, Jefferson’s list of accomplishments are numerous as well as his policrical background. This paper will explain the background of Thomas Jefferson, as well as his influences in shaping this country into how he thought this new country should be developed.
To start the introduction of Thomas Jefferson some wonder where to start, due to that “Thomas Jefferson was a half a dozen people rolled into one, and his world was one of the most spacious that a normal man ever lived” (Weymouth, 9). Jefferson was seen as a very evasive man due to never sharing his feelings through words but it was not always this way. Thomas Jefferson was born April 2, 1742, at Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia. His father owned over five thousand acres in land making him a very wealthy man. His parents were both of high social classes with very high educational backgrounds, thus pushing Jefferson into a life of opportunity with the world at his feet. Jefferson explored all his options to find out what he wanted to do in life, this lead Jefferson into learning five languages and being able to read two others. His education was very important to him and his will to learn never escaped him(Beloff 10).
His parents were Peter and Jane (Randolph) Jefferson, a former native of Wales. They had six daughters and two sons, of whom Thomas was the oldest (Chinard 4). When Jefferson was fourteen years old his father died. He received an exquisite education, having been kept constantly at school ever since he was five years old. In 1760 he entered William and Mary College. Williamsburg was then the seat of the Colonial court, and it was the abode of fashion and splendor(Chinard 5). At this time, Jefferson was now only seventeen, lived and had a taste for expensive and lavish things. He kept fine horses, and went to many social events yet he was diligent with his studies, and undeterred in his morals. In the second year of his college life Jefferson moved away for some unexplained reason, he discarded his old companions as well as his residency (Malone 129).
It was not uncommon for Jefferson to spend fifteen hours a day studying, by doing this he attained a very high intellect, especially in the field of philosophy and languages. The two fields Jefferson mastered in
Immediately after leaving college he began the study of law. For a short time he continued in the practice of his profession, as he rose rapidly he distinguished himself by his energy and acuteness as a lawyer(Chinard7). But the times called for greater action. The policy of England had awakened the spirit of resistance in the American Colonies, and the enlarged views which Jefferson had ever entertained soon led him into active political life. In 1769 he was chosen a member of the Virginia House of Burgess.
Jefferson’s wide study and broad education lead him into becoming a lawyer, agronomist, musician, scientist, philosopher, and the most important an author. Over the course of his life Jefferson “wrote over sixteen thousand letters” (Declaration 1). Among his love for scripture, Jefferson also had a passion for agriculture. He planted various plants in an uninhabited area. This gave him time to become close to nature. In 1772 he married Martha Skelton, a widow and took in his partly constructed mountaintop home (Thomas Jefferson 1).
Viewed as an awkward man he did not excel in public speaking, he would much rather let his pen do the talking. Jefferson’s exceptional way with words and ability to relay a clear message lead him into the position of a “silent member” of congress when he was only thirty three(Chinard 4). This began the start of Thomas Jefferson’s career and the start of his many accomplishments.
It was at this time that Thomas Jefferson actually began work on the Declaration of Independence. Not only did he refer to his own “A Summary View” of the Rights of British America, and his own draft for a Virginia state constitution, but he also relied heavily on the “Virginia Declaration of Rights(Malone 146). This document was drafted by George Mason, another Virginia patriot leader. It was adopted unanimously by the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg in June 1776. It is considered to be a precursor of the Declaration of Independence. It is obvious from reading it that Jefferson was heavily influenced by it when he wrote the Declaration(Malone 146).
Some of the most obvious and well known accomplishments of Jefferson was his expansion of the United States’ territory and power. Perhaps the most well known accomplishment of Jefferson’s presidency was the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. For a mere $15 million Jefferson more than doubled the size of the United States and eliminated the presence of Napoleon from U.S. borders(Jefferson 1).
Jefferson being very busy with the Napoleonic wars sought these lands as a way to expanding and his keen business sense lead to a great purchase for the United States. Financially Jefferson did very well slashing Army and Navy expenditures, cutting the budget, eliminating the tax on whiskey which was so unpopular in the West, yet reduced the national debt by a third(Thomas Jefferson 1). The purchase also provided the United States with the port of New Orleans which improved American commerce. Jefferson also authorized a survey of the new land known as the Louis and Clarke expedition which improved American knowledge of the newly acquired land mass.
It can be argued that the Louisiana Purchase helped originate American expansion under the banner of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean(Malone143). Many American settlers were enticed to follow the trail left by Louis and Clarke and make eventual claims to western territory all the way to the Pacific.
Out of 44 United States Presidents, Thomas Jefferson stands out as one of the most successful through his various accomplishments in office. After the troubled administration of President John Adams, mainly due to Jefferson being sharply at odds with fellow cabinet members John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, both who he found to be to authoritarian and to quick to assume overwhelming power for the part of executive(Declaration 1), the newly established country looked towards Thomas Jefferson as a president to lead the nation in the right direction. Many Americans had grown tired of the Federalist Party and its policies after it ruled over the nation for 12 years. As a result, more Americans began to promote the Federalist’s rival party, the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson.
As one of the major founding fathers and author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had strong visions to lead the new nation. A year before coming into office Jefferson went to the Continental Congress with a reputation for literature, science and a happy talent of composition (Weymouth, 180) with a plan for the Declaration.was at this time that Thomas Jefferson actually began work on the Declaration of Independence. Not only did he refer to his own “A Summary View” of the Rights of British America, and his own draft for a Virginia state constitution, but he also relied heavily on the “Virginia Declaration of Rights(Malone 146). This document was drafted by George Mason, another Virginia patriot leader. It was adopted unanimously by the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg in June 1776. It is considered to be a precursor of the Declaration of Independence. It is obvious from reading it that Jefferson was heavily influenced by it when he wrote the Declaration(Malone 146).
In the end the Declaration was adopted pretty much as written by Jefferson. As a president, Jefferson managed to unify Americans while promoting democracy through Democratic-Republican principles of limited government. The composition of the United States changed during Jefferson’s administration as the nation more than doubled in size. Jefferson had several impressive diplomatic achievements by avoiding war and entangling foreign alliances during his eight years in office.
Although Jefferson’s administration was not free of flaws, there is no doubt that his accomplishments in that the United States experienced peaceful political transition, greater level of democracy, territorial expansion, and a continuation of neutrality(Beloff 18).
Major accomplishments of President Jefferson that are sometimes overlooked were his abilities to unify Americans and strengthen democracy, “It is Jefferson, if not Lincoln himself, who is the central figure in the history of American democracy” (Weymouth 189). One of the most remarkable events in world political history was the Revolution of 1800.
For a young nation like the United States to voluntarily transfer political power from party to party without violence was truly remarkable. This could not have been done without Jefferson’s ability to unify the American people. In an effort to avoid a potential civil war, Jefferson eased much political tension when he stated in his inaugural address that, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists”(Beloff 14). Once in office, Jefferson sought to bring Americans together and reduce tension by acting on the requests of both parties.
Although Jefferson acted on the will of his party by limiting the size of the military, number of federal jobs and repealing taxes, he also pleased Federalists by continuing the National Bank and debt payment. Jefferson improved American democracy by encouraging individual rights. In essence, Jefferson helped unify a divided, young nation and influenced American democracy by promoting individual rights and executive power(Malone 150).
Another important legacy left by President Thomas Jefferson was his skilled use of diplomacy to avoid America’s unnecessary involvement in war and foreign alliances. There is no doubt that the accomplishments of President Thomas Jefferson were considerable towards the growth of the United States. His abilities to unify the American people, promote individual rights, and expand executive power have certainly left a lasting impression on the American political system. He enabled the United States to see its potential by acquiring vast amounts of territory and proving to itself that it could protect its valuable overseas shipping. Jefferson also managed to maintain U.S. neutrality and peace in a time of growing worldwide conflict. Probably none of the other founding fathers has been as often invoked as Jefferson, in such diverse and even conflicting causes (Weymouth, 229).
Jefferson has become an immortal figure of American politics as his political principles such as limited government continue to influence today’s political ideals. Although he was far from perfect like any American president, the author of the Declaration of Independence deserves recognition as one of America’s more successful presidents through his lasting accomplishments while in office. After a second term as president Jefferson retired to his Monticello home where he later died on July 4, 1826.
In conclusion through Thomas Jefferson’s accomplishments and his influences and decisions were essential in the development of the United States as we know it today. Through his high level of educational background, Jefferson was able to establish some of the most important things in US history. His drive as well as his passion in time of need has earned him the respect, dignity, and title of one of the United States founding fathers. His influences of early American politics as well as his ability to advocate liberty, has earned Thomas Jefferson the title one of the most important titles of one of the greatest United States presidents in all of history.
“Declaration of Independence.” Thomas Jefferson. 4 July 1995. Ushistory.org. 24 Nov. 2008 www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/jefferson.htm.
“Thomas Jefferson.” Biography of Thomas Jefferson. The White House. 24 Nov. 2008 www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/tj3.html.
Weymouth, Lally. Thomas Jefferson, The man, His world, His Influence. First ed. New York, NY: G.P Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
Chinard, Gilbert. Thomas Jefferson, The Apostle of Americanism.
Second ed. New York, NY: Seven Springs, 1975.
Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the President.
First ed. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company, 1970.
Beloff, Max. Thomas Jefferson and American democracy.
First ed. London E.C.: The English Universities Press LTD: 1965