Thomas Jefferson was a Founding Father and the third President of the United States. He is the author of the Declaration of Independence and founded the University of Virginia. He also served as Governor of Virginia, Virginia Congressman, Minister to France, Secretary of State under George Washington and Vice President under John Adams.
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 founder of the University of 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 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 Bugesses.
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
- Boston Port Act
- Massachusetts Government Act
- Administration of Justice Act
- Quartering Act
- Quebec Act
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.
As the Democratic-Republican candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson finished second to Federalist John Adams and served as Vice President from 1797–1801. In response to events such as the Quasi-War and the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.
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 American’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.
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.
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 — Quick Facts
Key facts and important details about Thomas Jefferson for kids doing research and students studying for the AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam.
- Author of the Declaration of Independence.
- First Secretary of State of the United States.
- Founded the Democratic-Republican Party with James Madison.
- Third President of the United States.
- Founder of the University of Virginia.
- Author of Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom.