Biography of Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was one of the most important Founding Fathers of the United States. He was born in Virginia and rose to prominence in the early days of the American Revolution after he finished his education as a lawyer and was elected to the House of Burgesses. Despite his status as a plantation owner and slave-holder, Jefferson was an advocate for reforming the slavery system in the Southern Colonies.
He was an outspoken critic of the Coercive Acts and was elected to the Second Continental Congress, where he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. He was also involved in Virginia politics during the American Revolutionary War and was elected governor. Later, he represented Virginia in the Confederation Congress and he was the primary author of the Land Ordinance of 1784.
In 1784, he was sent to France and eventually succeeded Benjamin Franklin as Foreign Minister. While there, he developed strong ties with the French but was unable to participate in the Constitutional Convention. After George Washington was elected President, Jefferson returned to America to serve as Secretary of State, however, he disagreed with Washington and others over the Jay Treaty, which led him to form a coalition with James Madison that became the Democratic-Republican Party.
In 1796, Jefferson finished second to John Adams in the presidential election and served as Vice President. During this time, he opposed Adams on several initiatives, including the Alien and Sedition Acts, which damaged their friendship. Jefferson and Madison wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in opposition to those laws. In those resolutions, they defined the concept of “Nullification,” which would be used by Southerners to justify the Secession Crisis that preceded the Civil War.
In 1800, Jefferson was elected as the third President of the United States. During his first term, the United States was involved in the First Barbary War, which was the first foreign war fought — and won — by America. In 1802, he started negotiations with France that led to the Louisiana Purchase. Soon after, he authorized the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the new territory.
In 1804, he was elected to a second term as President. Two years later, South Carolina re-entered the international slave trade, which Jefferson criticized. He asked Congress to outlaw it, and it passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, which he signed.
After he left the Presidency, he reconciled with his old friend, John Adams. In 1819 he founded the University of Virginia. As the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence neared, Jefferson was ill and unable to attend festivities.
Around 1:00 in the afternoon of July 4, 1826, he lay in his bed. His doctor offered him medicine for his pain, which he refused. At approximately 12:50 in the afternoon, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most important Founding Fathers of the United States, passed away. Later that afternoon, in yet another providential moment, and perhaps the last of the American Revolution, Jefferson’s close friend and fellow Founding Father, John Adams, also died.
Quick Facts About Thomas Jefferson
- Born: Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Virginia.
- Parents: His father was Peter Jefferson and his mother was Jane Randolph.
- Died: He died on July 4, 1826, at his home in Monticello, Virginia.
Early Life and Education
Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, to Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph. Jefferson’s father died in 1757 and he inherited 5,000 acres of land and slaves. On that land, Jefferson built his home, which would become known as Monticello.
In 1760 at the age of 16, Jefferson began college at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He graduated in 1762 with the highest honors. At William & Mary, Jefferson was exposed to the writings of John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. After college, he studied law with George Wythe and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.
Election to House of Burgesses
Beginning in 1769, Jefferson represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Marriage to Martha Skelton
Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, at the age of 29. She was a 23-year-old widow. They had six children, and Martha died on September 6, 1782, after the birth of their last child. Jefferson did not remarry.
Response to the Coercive Acts
Jefferson responded by writing a set of resolutions in protest, which was later expanded and published as “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.”
Second Continental Congress and Declaration of Independence
Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, which began in June 1775. That same month, Congress appointed Jefferson to the five-man committee which was tasked with drafting a document declaring the independence of the colonies and the reasons that supported the notion. The draft of the Declaration was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776. After voting in favor of declaring independence on July 2, the wording of the document was debated and changed. Finally, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved.
Return to Virginia
He returned to Virginia in September of 1776 and was elected to the new Virginia House of Delegates. From 1779-1781, he served as Governor of Virginia. In 1783, he was appointed by the state legislature to Congress on June 6.
Minister to France
He became Minister to France in 1785. Because he was in France, Jefferson was not able to attend the Philadelphia Convention, but correspondence with James Madison kept him informed of the progress of the proceedings.
Secretary of State
After the ratification of the Constitution, Jefferson served as the first Secretary of State during the first term of George Washington from 1790-1793. Disagreements between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton regarding fiscal policy contributed to Jefferson and James Madison founding the Democratic-Republican Party. In 1793, Jefferson retired to Monticello but continued to orchestrate opposition to the Federalists.
Vice President to John Adams
As the Democratic-Republican candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson finished second to Federalist John Adams and served as Vice President from 1797–1801. The Presidency of John Adams was volatile, due to political infighting in the Federalist Party and issues with France, including the XYZ Affair. In response to events such as the Quasi-War and the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.
Third President of the United States
In 1800, Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in votes for the Presidency. The House of Representatives was forced to vote on the new President, and after 36 ballots were taken, Jefferson was elected President and Burr Vice President on February 17, 1801.
Jefferson served two terms as President and oversaw America’s first significant overseas war, the First Barbary War, from 1801–1805. In 1803, he authorized the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, doubling the size of the United States.
Founder of the University of Virginia
In 1819, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, which opened in 1825. Jefferson did not include a church in his original plans, and the campus was centered around a library, rather than a church, which was notable for the time.
The Death of Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826. It was the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and the same day that John Adams died. Adams and Jefferson had once again grown close through a series of letters they had sent to each other through the years. This had been encouraged by Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Jefferson is immortalized by the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
He is also one of the four icons that appear on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
Thomas Jefferson, Accomplishments and Achievements
Key facts, important details, accomplishments, and achievements of Thomas Jefferson for kids doing research and students studying for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam.
- Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.
- He was the first Secretary of State of the United States, under President George Washington.
- He founded the Democratic-Republican Party with James Madison.
- In 1800, he was elected as the third President of the United States.
- He promoted the western expansion of the United States and authorized the Louisiana Purchase.
- He is the founder of the University of Virginia.
- He is the author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom.
Significance of Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s Founding Fathers and the third President of the United States. He served two terms as President, from 1801–1809. Jefferson also is the author of the Declaration of Independence and the founder of the University of Virginia.