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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, the son of Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph, was born in Virginia in 1743 into a wealthy and socially prominent family. After attending the College of William and Mary, he went on to study law. At the age of twenty-six, Jefferson began building Monticello, the home he maintained and continued to expand and change, thoughout his life. Three years later, in 1772, he married Martha Wayles Skelton. The couple had six children, two of whom survived to adulthood. Martha Jefferson died after ten years of marriage; Thomas never remarried. Although, as a writer, Jefferson was eloquent, he was not considered a very good public speaker. As a member of both the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress, he took on much of the writing needed by those bodies. In 1776, at the young age of 33, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. From 1779 to 1781, Jefferson served as Governor of Virginia. Jefferson temporarily retired from public life after his term as governor, during which time he wrote Notes on the State of Virginia. He returned to public life in 1784 as a diplomat serving in France, first as a trade commissioner and later as Benjamin Franklin's successor as minister. In 1790, Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State in President Washington's Cabinet, but resigned in 1793 over a disagreement with Alexander Hamilton. As political disagreements continued to polarize the young government, Jefferson found himself leading those who sympathized with the revolutionary cause in France. In 1800, Jefferson was elected President in a tie vote that ironically was decided by Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson's first term was marked by the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition, while his second term encountered both foreign and domestic difficulties, as he tried to remain neutral in the midsts of conflicts between Britain and France. In 1809, Jefferson returned to his home in Monticello, where he developed, among other projects, plans for the University of Virginia. In addition, he sold his collection of books to the government. This collection formed the basis of the Library of Congress. Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.