Thomas Jefferson: Man of Many Talents

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One man single-handedly authored the Declaration of Independence, and drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. A talented architect, he designed and founded the University of Virginia. He virtually doubled the size of our nation, and set up the Corps of Discovery. He abolished the slave trade, despite fierce controversy. The third president of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson was a force to be reckoned with. He was a brilliant individual with many passions, including architecture, music, reading, law, and agriculture. A strong Democratic-Republican leader, Jefferson played a key role in the founding of our nation.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, on the Shadwell plantation. His father, Peter Jefferson, was a surveyor and adventurer who mapped land west of the settlements. Young Thomas adored his father, and would follow him around the plantation, listening to stories of his many adventures.

Thomas would often read old books, and learn math. In his spare time, the boy explored the hilltop that would later become Monticello, or “little mountain”. Peter had not received a good education, but was determined for Tom to. Peter decided to have Thomas study with Reverend William Douglas at Dover Church.

Peter Jefferson passed away when his son was just 14, leaving Thomas devastated. Despite the fact that he still had a mother and siblings, the young boy felt alone. Lonely, he disappeared into his books and music. Thomas returned to school after six months, closer to Shadwell. He attended the school of Reverend James Maury, who taught him to enjoy language. Together, they studied Latin, Greek, and modern French. They also studied “natural philosophy”, or science, and learned about rocks in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In March of 1760, when Thomas was 17, he rode 150 miles to Williamsburg, where he attended the College of William and Mary. He was taught mathematics, science and philosophy by Dr. William Small, who would become a close friend of his. An incredible student, few worked harder than young Thomas. He would sometimes, though, daydream of the house that he planned to build.

Thomas decided to study law when he was 19. He was aided by George Wythe, a friend of Dr. Small. Coincidentally, Wythe would later become America’s first law professor. During Tom’s time studying, Britain began to tax the colonies. Williamsburg, where he was staying, was a center of rebellion against the taxes. Encouraged, he eventually would become a leader of the rebellion.

In 1765, Thomas Jefferson returned to Shadwell to study for the bar exam, which he was required to pass in order to become a lawyer. He read many books by influential political thinkers. However, Parliament passed the Stamp Act that year. Because of the tax on paper goods, Jefferson was unable to practice law or take the bar exam. He realized that there was nothing to do but wait for the act to be repealed, so he began to make plans for his own home, to be built on Monticello.

When the Stamp Act was finally repealed, Jefferson became a lawyer. He won many cases, and word of his political prowess spread quickly. In 1769, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses representing Albemarle County. Coincidentally, the same position was once held by his father, Peter. Unfortunately, new laws soon limited the people’s right to trial, and the House of Burgesses was dissolved. Jefferson and the other now-former members were furious. Enraged, they boycotted all British goods.

Although the House of Burgesses was no longer meeting, Jefferson continued to practice law. One of his most important cases involved separation of church and state. Jefferson, usually very confident in his decisions, also struggled with the question of slavery. He did own slaves that he had inherited from his father, but felt that they had a better home with him than some other planters who may not have been so kind. Jefferson believed that “under the law of nature, all men are born free”. However, he remained torn about slavery because most people supported it.

In 1769, construction on Monticello began. It began with a small, one-room building on the hilltop. It would later become the South Pavilion of the estate. One day, when Jefferson was in Charlottesville, a family slave informed him that his family home had burned to the ground. His family was safe, and he rented rooms for them, but the event stuck with him. Now, more than ever, he realized the importance of a home of his own, and continued to work on Monticello. He moved into the one-room house in fall 1769.

During Jefferson’s travels as a lawyer, he fell in love. Her name was Martha Skelton, who was a beautiful young woman with dark hair and hazel eyes. Better yet, she was intelligent and had an education. Martha loved reading, singing, and playing the harpsichord. Jefferson knew that they were a perfect pair. He repeatedly visited her father’s plantation – The Forest – for two years, trying to convince her father that they should marry. He finally obliged, and the happy couple married on New Year’s Day of 1772, at his plantation.

In 1773, the new royal governor, Lord Dunmore, decided to raise taxes on the colonists. Many were upset by this, especially Jefferson. He was certain that the colonies needed a means to communicate, and he had an idea. They could use “committees of correspondence”, groups of representatives from each colony who would meet regularly and discuss important matters. Lord Dunmore failed to recognize the power that the colonies would wield with committees, and did nothing to stop them. The power of the colonies grew overnight, and people began to wonder if the colonies might someday be independent.

All was not well, however. Because of the Boston Tea Party, King George III was upset. In response to the rebellions, he passed the Intolerable Acts, enraging the colonists. They set up two Continental Congresses to diçscuss them. In 1774, Jefferson wrote instructions for the Virginia Delegates, which later became a pamphlet. It was titled, “A Summary View of the Rights of British America”.

In late December of 1775, Jefferson rushed home from Philadelphia, worried about the safety of his family. Thankfully, when he reached Monticello in early January 1776, they were unharmed, far from the conflict. For a short time, he was able to relax with them at home.

When Paine’s Common Sense was published, Jefferson, like others, was inspired, and ready to accept a declaration of independence. He prepared to return to his duties. However, his mother died unexpectedly of a stroke, so he remained at Monticello until May. Jefferson resumed his seat in Congress on May 14, 1776.

Because of Jefferson’s pamphlet for the Virginia delegates, he had a reputation as a knowledgeable, eloquent writer, and was often asked to draft reports. Even as the youngest member of Congress, he was called upon to write the Declaration of Independence. He drew from other writings, including his own. Despite his hard work, he was forced to silently suffer as Congress removed parts of the Declaration, from words, to whole paragraphs. For him, however, the most glaring deletion was his harsh criticism of the slave trade. Jefferson had blamed the problem on King George III, when it really wasn’t all his fault.

The Declaration had several main points that Jefferson believed strongly in for our budding nation. The first was that slavery should not exist in a free country. He declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. He also believed in natural rights, as philosopher John Locke had as well. Jefferson said that everyone is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. A third point was that citizens held the “right of revolution”. As he put it, “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”.

Thomas Jefferson also wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. He believed that the beliefs of others have no negative effect on you. The Statute declared that no one is required to contribute money to a church, and that church and state should be kept entirely separate.

From 1779 to 1781, Jefferson was the governor of Virginia. He returned to Congress, which had been renamed the Congress of the Confederation, in 1783. Two years later, Jefferson became the United States minister to France, taking the place of Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson was soon sent to Europe to carry out his duties.

After his time in France, Jefferson returned to America in 1789. He was appointed by Washington to become the nation’s first Secretary of State. Jefferson frequently argued with the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, over foreign policy and their differing views of the United States Constitution.

Cite this paper

Thomas Jefferson: Man of Many Talents. (2021, Mar 19). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/thomas-jefferson-man-of-many-talents/

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