Presidents of the United States

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 27


THOMAS JEFFERSON was born April 2, 1743, at Shadwell, Albermadrle County, Va.  His parents were Peter and Jane (Randolph) Jefferson, the former a native of Wales, and the latter born in London.  To them were born six daughters and two sons, of whom Thomas was the elder.  When 14 years of age his father died.  He received a most liberal education, having been kept diligently at school from the time he was five years of age.  In 1760 he entered William and Mary College.  Williamsburg was then the seat of the Colonial Court, and it was the obode of fashion and splendor. Young Jefferson, who was then 17 years old, lived somewhat expensively, keeping fine horses, and much caressed by gay society, yet he was able in his morals.  It is strange, however, under such influences, that he was not ruined.  In the second year of his college course, moved by some unexplained inward impulse, he discarded his horses, society, and even his favorite violin, to which he had previously given much time.  He often devoted fifteen hours a day to hard study,  allowing himself for exercise only a run in the evening twilight of a mile out of the city and back again.  He thus attained very high intellectual culture, alike excellence in philosophy and the languages.  The most difficult Latin and Greek authors he read with facility.  A more finished scholar has seldom gone forth from college halls; and there was not to be found, perhaps in all Virginia, a more pureminded, upright, gentlemanly young man.

Immediately upon leaving college he began the study of law.  For the short time he continued in the practice of his profession he rose rapidly and distinguished himself by his energy and accuteness as a lawyer.  But the times called for greater action.  The policy of England had awakened the spirit of resistance of the American Colonies, and the enlarged views which Jefferson had ever entertained, soon led him into active political life.  In 1769 he was chosen a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  In 1772 he married Mrs. Martha Skelton, a very beautiful, wealthy and highly accomplished young widow.

Upon Mr. Jefferson’s large estate at Shadwell, there was a majestic swell of land,  called Monticello, which commanded a prospect of wonderful extent and beauty. This spot Mr. Jefferson selected for his new home; and here he reared a mansion of modest yet elegant architecture, which, next to Mount Vernon, became the most distinguished resort in the land.

In 1775 he was sent to the Colonial Congress, where, though a silent member, his abilities as a writer and a reasoner soon become known, and he was placed upon a number of important committees, and was chairman of the one appointed for the drawing up of a declaration of independence.  This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston.  Jefferson, as chairman, was appointed to draw up the paper.  Franklin and Adams suggested a few verbal changes before it was submitted to Congress.  On June 28, a few slight changes were made in it by Congress,  and it was passes and signed July 4, 1776.  What must have been the feelings of that man-what the emotions that swelled his breast-who was charged with the preparation of that Declaration, which, while it made known the wrongs of America, was also to publish her to the world, free soverign and independent.  It is one of the most remarkable papers ever written; and did no other effort of the mind of its author exist, that alone would be sufficient to stamp his name with immortality.

In 1779 Mr. Jefferson was elected successor to Patrick Henry, as Governor of Virginia.  At one time the British officer, Tarleton, sent a secret expedition to Monticello, to capture the Governor.  Scarcely five minutes elapsed after the hurried escape of Mr. Jefferson and his family, ere his mansion was in possession of the British troops.  His wife’s health, never very good, was much injured by this excitement, and in the summer of 1782 she died.

Mr. Jefferson was elected to Congress in 1783.  Two years later he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France.  Returning to the United States in September, 1789, he became Secretary of State in Washington’s cabinet.  This position he resigned Jan. 1, 1794.  In 1797, he was chosen Vice President, and four years later was elected President over Mr. Adams, with Aaron Burr as Vice President.  In 1804 he was re-elected with wonderful unanimity, and George Clinton, Vice President.

The early part of Mr. Jefferson’s second administration was disturbed by an event which threatened the tranquility and peace of the Union; this was the conspiracy of Aaron Burr.  Defeated in the late election to the Vice Presidency, and led on by an unprincipled ambition, this extraordinary man formed the plan of a military expedition into the Spanish territories on our southwestern frontier, for the purpose of forming there a new republic.  This has been generally supposed was a mere pretext; and although it has not been generally known what his real plans were, there is no doubt that they were of a far more dangerous character.

In 1809, at the expiration of the second term for which Mr. Jefferson had been elected, he determined to retire from political life. For a period of nearly forty years, he had been continually before the public, and all that time had been employed in offices of the greatest trust and responsibility.  Having thus devoted the best part of his life to the service of his country, he now felt desirous of that rest which his declining years required, and upon the organization of the new administration, in March, 1809, he bid farewell forever of public life, and retired to Monticello.

Mr. Jefferson was profuse in his hospitality. Whole families came in their coaches with their horses, fathers and mothers, boys and girls, babies and nurses,-and remained three and even six months.   Life at Monticello, for years, resembled that at a fashionable watering-place.

The fourth of July, 1826, being the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence, great preparations were made in every part of the Union for its celebration, as the nation’s jubilee, and the citizens of  Washington, to add to the solemnity of the occasion, invited Mr. Jefferson, as the framer, and one of the few surviving signers of the Declaration, to participate in their festivities.  But an illness, which had been of several weeks duration, and had been continually increasing, compelled him to decline the invitation.

On the second of July, the disease under which he was laboring left him, but in such a reduced state that his medical attendants, entertained no hope of his recovery,  From this time he was perfectly sensible that his last hour was at hand.  On the next day, which was Monday, he asked of those around him, the day of the month, and on being told it was the third of July, he expressed the earnest wish that he might be permitted to breathe the air of the fiftieth anniversary.  His prayer was heard-that day, whose dawn has hailed with such rapture through our land, burst upon his eyes, and then they were closed forever.  And what a noble consummation of a noble life!  To die on that day,-the birthday of a nation,-the day which his own name and his own act had rendered glorious; to die amidst the rejoicing and festivities of a whole nation, who looked up to him, as the author, under God, of their greatest blessings, was all that was wanting to fill up the record his life.

Almost at the same hour of his death, the kindred spirit of the venerable Adams, as if to bear him company, left the scene of his earthly honors.  Hand in hand they had stood forth, the champions of freedom; hand in hand, during the dark and desperate struggle of the Revolution, they had cheered and animated their desponding countrymen; for half a century they had labored together for the good of the country; and  now hand in hand they depart.  In their lives they had been united in the same great cause of liberty, and in their deaths they were not divided.

In person Mr. Jefferson was tall and thin, rather above six feet in height, but well formed; his eyes were light, his hair originally red, in after life became white and silvery; his complexion was fair, his forehead broad, and his whole countenance intelligent and thoughtful.  He possessed great fortitude of mind as well as personal courage; and his command of temper was such that his oldest and most intimate friends never recollected to have seen him in a passion.  His manners, though dignified, were simple and unaffected, and his hospitality was so unbounded that all found at his house a ready welcome.  In conversation he was fluent, eloquent and enthusiastic; and his language was remarkably pure and correct.  He was a finished classical scholar, and in his writing is discernable the care with which he formed his style upon the best models of antiquity.

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