Thomas Jefferson: A Legacy Man

American statesman (Shadwell, Virginia, 1743 - Monticello, Virginia, 1826.) He became the 3rd President of the United States of America.

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd U.S President


The Beginnings

Thomas Jefferson was born in a privileged family in 1743. He managed to become the owner of thousands of acres and of nearly 240 slaves. He studied in William and Mary School and obtained the law degree in 1767. But pretty soon, his environment, the political situation and his love to the state of Virginia, moved him to the political issues. In the conflict that was separating even more England and its colonies, Jefferson kept from the beginning clear and stiff ideas. He had read several philosophers, including Locke, who glorified the English revolution in 1688. Because of these influences, Jefferson would later become a huge supporter of the Revolution against the British tyranny. From 1769 to 1775, he was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1774, he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, where he claimed that the London Parliament could not, by any means, govern the American colonies. The following year, he was elected Representative for the Continental Congress. His literature values, his thinking robustness and his immense knowledge, explained that he became part of the Commission in charge of writing the Declaration of Independence. He poured in it all his ideas, except the abolishment of slavery, which was voided by the Congress. 

He also participated in the development of the Virginia Constitution, where he introduced the suspension of the primogeniture rights, the separation of the Anglican Church and the Government, and the establishment of public education. 


In 1779, he became governor of the state of Virginia and after 1781 he returned to Congress. He supported there with great success the implementation of the decimal system in the currency. He was basically the author of the law in 1784 that organized territories in the west of the Appalachian Mountains, free of slaves and with the same rights as the founding states. The next year, he succeeded Franklin as United States Ambassador in France. In this new post, he got in touch with all kinds of people: the French patriots who admired the American Revolution, came to him to receive advices. To satisfy the curiosity of many, he published his Notes on the State of Virginia. His stay in France ended up with the foundation of a solid affectionate relationship between the two countries and with Jefferson's hope that the French rebels would win the battle for freedom. However, his stay in France didn't allow him to participate in the works on the Convention of Philadelphia. But, he declared himself in favor of the new Constitution, expressing some differences though, and endorsing the efforts of his friend James Madison (1751-1836).

He returned to United States at the end of 1789. President Washington offered him the post of secretary of state which Jefferson accepted. However, it didn't last long until he confronted secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), who wanted to expand the powers of the central government and to establish a central banking system that controlled the economy of the country. Hamilton dreamt about industrializing the country, raise tariffs and make the country institutions develop towards an English-style monarchy. For Jefferson, these projects were fundamentally against the constitution and damaging. He defended the rights of the different states (a more decentralized view) as a way to fight against potential tyranny. Inspired by the physiocratic mentality, he conceded to agriculture all virtues: for him, it was the only real source of production. "Those who labour the earth are the chosen people by God". From his point of view, the United States should keep on being an agrarian country, based on gardeners, independent and virtuous. These would be "the best hope for the future". To combat the federalist Hamilton's point of view, he founded with Madison, the Democratic-Republican Party, which his adversaries baptized, with the name of "democrat party". When in 1792, the war in Europe broke out, Jefferson desired that his country defended France, according to the 1778 Treaty; but Hamilton was more inclined to neutrality and president Washington supported this second option. Jefferson resigned in 1793. His party was mainly endorsed by growers, partisans of states' rights, Frontier's pioneers, democracy partisans and northeastern artisans, hostile towards the rich federalists. Jefferson spread his ideas through a newspaper. In the presidential elections in 1796, he occupied the second position and, according to the active electoral system back then, he became vice-president. However, the winner and therefore second president in the history of the United States, John Adams, was a federalist and the conflict between these two men was imminent. The British and French immigrants supported Jefferson, whereas the federalist majority in Congress turned to exceptional laws. However, in 1800, Jefferson, who had prepared with huge effort the presidential elections, became the third president of the United States. 

President of the United States

From his first day in Office, he proclaimed to be the "president for all". "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists," he once said. His government was frugal and simple, although not always lacking ostentation. The president respected the independence of the lawmakers; but he was forced to accept the federalist conception that Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had given to the Constitution. Jefferson was soon surrounded by men who obviously worked towards the implementation of bills, prepared the debates, and secured his approval. In the political life, and in particular at the parties' level, the ideology moved to the background: a truly presidential party was struggling to gather a majority through a moderate program. In a word, Jefferson contributed to create the American system of parties and to confirm the federal government. 

Regarding the economic policy, no changes were really introduced. Federal debts were paid out; the principle of free company wasn't reviewed a second time, both in agriculture and in commerce; there were no threats to the banking system, created in 1791 for a period of 20 years, and Madison, who succeeded Jefferson, even founded a Second Bank in 1816. Jefferson was the man responsible for the incredibly national territory's expansion, that -stricto sensu- was against the Constitution. In 1803, he bought from France the territory of Louisiana, which spread throughout the west of Mississippi River; appointed Lewis and William Clark the mission to discover a terrestrial and fluvial route to the Pacific (1803-1806); then, Zebulon Pike arrived to the Colorado (1806-1807). In the Southeast, he was also quite interested in the Spanish Floridas. He felt, at the end, sympathy for the French ideologues and contempt for the dictatorial regime of Napoleon. During the Empire Wars, he made big efforts to keep neutrality. To respond to the abusive British Navy methods and the establishment of the continental blockade, he ordered the suspension of the American commerce overseas. But the Embargo Act of 1807 generated a profound discontent among American citizens, and it had to be abolished in 1809. 

Finally, that man of republican feelings was not a republican president; actually, he implemented a large part of the federalists' program. 

Retired at his home in Monticello, he dedicated his spare time to found the University of Virginia, he maintained good contact with his friends, and even old enemies, like John Adams, and gave his successors political advice, asked or not. Architect, he was passionately willing to expand his knowledge on the lands to be discovered, an enthusiastic classical and modern literature reader, Jefferson was more than a simple politician: he was the incarnation of the North American elite of the end of the 18th century. 

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