American statesman, 3d President of the United States; born in Shadwell, Va., April 2, 1743.
He received a liberal education for that time, graduating at William and Mary College in 1764. He was admitted to the bar in 1767. In 1769 he was sent to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he gained local fame by a speech supporting the emancipation of slaves. In 1774 the Burgesses were dissolved by Lord Dunmore, the governor, but met on their own responsibility, and sent delegates to the Colonial Congress. Jefferson being elected but unable to go, sent a “Summary View of the Rights of British North America,” for which he was nearly attainted of treason in Parliament.
Jefferson was a member of the 2d Congress, in 1775, and of the 3d, in 1776. He was appointed chairman of a special committee of five, to prepare a declaration of independence. Jefferson wrote the draft, and it was adopted by the committee, with very few changes, to become one of the immortal documents of history. He resigned his seat in Congress to assist in framing the Virginia constitution. In 1779 he was elected governor of Virginia. In 1783 he was returned to Congress, where he secured the adoption of the decimal system of coinage, and assisted in other important measures. In 1784, with Franklin and Adams, he was instrumental in making important treaties with Prussia and Morocco.
In 1785 he was made minister to France, where he served during the stormiest period of the French Revolution. The liberal and destructive spirit of that revolution had great influence upon him, and his subsequent views and acts were more or less shaped by it. He floated the French tricolor at his home at Monticello, and greeted his neighbors with the title “citizen.” In 1789 he was made Secretary of State by Washington. Here he was recognized as the leader of the Republican party, the other members of the Cabinet and Washington himself being Federalists.
In 1794 he retired to his estate, and passed three years in study and leisure. In 1797 he was chosen Vice-President with Adams, and in 1801 was elected President by the House of Representatives. In 1805 he was re-elected. His administrations were marked by the war with Tripoli, the admission of Ohio to the Union, the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the naval episode between the “Chesapeake” and the “Leopard,” the Embargo act, the trial of Aaron Burr for treason, and the prohibition of the slave trade. In 1809 he retired finally to private life, where he devoted himself to study and to philanthropic enterprises, his chief undertaking being the establishment of the University of Virginia.
He was steadily democratic in his views, and a champion of the rights of the States, as against centralization in government. He died in Monticello, Va., July 4, 1826, on the same day of John Adams's death, and the 50th anniversary of the famous Declaration that he had penned.Collier's Encyclopedia, 1921