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Thomas Jefferson, Writer of the Declaration of Independence

Read about Thomas Jefferson and his contribution to the independence of our country from Britain.

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Thomas Jefferson

US Declaration of Independence
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President John F. Kennedy had this to say about Thomas Jefferson in 1962, when welcoming 49 Nobel Prize winners: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." (Wikipedia-Thomas Jefferson).

Born in Shadwell, VA, in 1743, Jefferson was an avid student of many arts, graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1762 and being admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767. In 1772, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a young widow. Six children and a decade later, she died and he never remarried.

Jefferson practiced law and was in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1774, he wrote a powerful pamphlet that, while intended to be instructions for the Virginia delegates to a national congress, actually argued American terms for a settlement with Britain. In the spring and summer of 1776, Jefferson was a delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress. As one of the members of the five-man committee to rewrite the Lee Resolution for independence, he was persuaded by John Adams to take the task of actually writing the Declaration of Independence, which he accomplished (with suggestions from the others on the committee) in about 3 weeks.

The Declaration was passed by Congress on 2 July 1776 and 12 of the 13 colonies approved it on the 4th. New York signed it later that summer. You can see Thomas Jefferson's signature on the image to the right - it is the 7th name down from John Hancock's.

In September of 1776, Jefferson returned to the plantation in Virginia that he had inherited (along with dozens of slaves) from his father, which he called Monticello. He served as governor of Virginia until 1781, and was responsible for moving the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond in 1780. From 1785 to 1789, Jefferson was a minister to France (you can see a copy of letters written in the attached images) and then was the first Secretary of State under George Washington until 1793. For the next four years he was embroiled in opposition to Washington and Hamilton, and supported Madison. In 1796 he gained enough votes to become Vice President to John Adams, and was elected President in 1800. By the time he took office in 1801, his relations with John Adams had disintegrated and they remained on bad terms until their reconciliation in 1812.

After leaving the Presidency, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819, and died on the same day as John Adams (although earlier in the day) - 4 July 1826 (the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on Independence).

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