Author: Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, c. 1800, by Rembrandt Peale

The American statesman, polymath, president, and primary author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was born in Virginia to a land-holding family. After attending the College of William & Mary and practicing law for a few years, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and, later, to the Second Continental Congress. During the Revolutionary War, he served again in the Virginia legislature and then as governor of Virginia; following the war’s resolution, he was appointed as a minister to France. In 1790, President George Washington selected him as the nation’s first Secretary of State. In 1796, he ran against John Adams for the presidency, coming in second and serving as Adams’s vice president. Four years later, with the Electoral College in a deadlock, the House of Representatives, after 36 ballots, elected him as President of the United States. In his two terms as president, Jefferson authorized the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, greatly expanding the borders of the United States. He died in 1826 at his home, his beloved Monticello. 

Letter to Walter Jones

Thomas Jefferson

The most suitable mirror for taking the measure of a great man, it has been commonly observed, is a man of comparable greatness, good if a friend, sometimes even better if a rival or an enemy. Throughout their long association, culminating in his serving as Secretary of State in Washington’s first administration, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was at various times Washington’s friend, rival, and, on important matters of policy, an opponent, if not quite an enemy.