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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas JeffersonBorn: April 13, [O.S. April 2] 1743 Shadwell, Virginia
Died: July 4, 1826 (age 83), Charlottesville, Virginia
Buried: Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). He was a spokesman for democracy, embraced the principles of republicanism and the rights of man with worldwide influence. At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). Just after the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France.

Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. In opposition to Alexander Hamilton's Federalism, Jefferson and his close friend, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and subsequently resigned from Washington's cabinet. Elected Vice President in 1796, when he came in second to President John Adams of the Federalists, Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Elected president in what Jefferson called the Revolution of 1800, he oversaw the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. Jefferson is considered a primary architect of American expansionism; the United States having doubled in size during his presidency. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr. With escalating trouble with Britain who was challenging American neutrality and threatening shipping at sea, he tried economic warfare with his embargo laws which only damaged American trade. In 1803, President Jefferson initiated a process of Indian tribal removal and relocation to the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, in order to open lands for eventual American settlers. In 1807 he drafted and signed into law a bill banning the importation of slaves into the United States.

A leader in the Enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy and was an active member and eventual president of the American Philosophical Society. These interests led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello and the University of Virginia building. While not a notable orator, Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his adult life.

After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, Jefferson kept his promise to her that he would never remarry. Their marriage had produced six children, of whom two survived to adulthood.

As long as he lived, Jefferson expressed opposition to slavery, yet, he owned hundreds of slaves and freed only a few of them. Since his own day, controversy has ensued over allegations that he fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings; DNA tests in 1998, together with historical research, suggest he fathered at least one. Although he has been criticized by many present-day scholars over the issues of racism and slavery, Jefferson remains rated as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.

On July 4, at ten minutes before one o'clock in the afternoon, Jefferson died at the age of 83, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and a few hours before John Adams, whose own last words were, "Independence forever" and "Thomas Jefferson survives."

Jefferson's funeral was held July 5, performed by Reverend Charles Clay. The funeral was a simple and quiet affair, by his own request. No invitations were sent, but some friends and visitors came to the ceremony and burial to pay their respects. Jefferson's remains were carried by "servants, family and friends" to the family grave site at Monticello.

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