Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was one of the leaders of the independence movement against Great Britain, author of the American Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States of America (1801-1809). He was one of the general agents of the American enlightenment. As a diplomat and as a friend of English and French intellectuals he had direct contact to the leading scouts of Europe.

Jefferson was born on 13th April 1743 in Shadwell (Virginia)as the son of a wealthy owner of a plantation. In 1767 he was admitted as a lawyer and in 1769 he was a member of the parliament of Virginia for the first time.

The Independence

In 1774 Jefferson published the writing "A Summary View of the Rights of British America". Therein he argued that the first settlers came as independent individuals to America and not as envoys of the British government. They would have, accordingly, the right to determine their type of government by themselves. As a result the Continental Congress instructed Jefferson, a member of the Congress, to formulate of the Declaration of Independence of the 4th July 1776. It was based on the Summary View and emphasized explicitly the rights of the colonists, to loosen from their mother country because of the unlawful laws of the British Government.

The Declaration of Independence

As a member of the parliament of Virginia (1776-1779), Jefferson worked on a reform of the economy after the principles of the enlightenment and the republicanism. He fought for the abolition of social privileges, co-operated on the humanisation of the criminal law of Virginia and enforced the separation of church and state. But the parliament refused his draft of bill for a state school- and library system indeed. Only after many years Jefferson could open the University of Virginia (1825).

From 1779 to 1781 Jefferson was Governor of Virginia, before he retired on his property Monticello, where he wrote his "Notes on the State of Virginia", which were thought originally as information for a French correspondent and treated the social, political and economic aspects of life in Virginia in the 18th century. These notes became very famous later time.

In 1783 Jefferson was once again representative in the Continental Congress, and from 1784 to 1789 he was ambassador in France. Here he became witness of the early phase of the French revolution, which he greeted enthusiastically.

The governments Washington and Adams

As a foreign secretary (1789-1794) under George Washington Jefferson took up again his suggestions in 1783: The USA should close with the European states - besides Great Britain - trade agreements. But the congress refused .

After his resignation as foreign secretary Jefferson got into opposition for the government, which got in again contact to Great Britain. In 1796 he had himself set up from the oppositionel Republicans Party (today the Democratic Party) as presidential candidate and in 1797 he became with the second largest percentage of votes according to the at that time valid vote system, vice president under  President John Adams.

The presidency Jefferson

In 1800 Jefferson won the presidential elections after an election campaign, in which  he had emphasised the rights for the single states. Jefferson's most important performance as president was the expansion of the USA to the west (to about the double size of the current territory): In 1803 he purchased Louisiana from France and ordered the Lewis-and-Clark-sending (1804-1806) for the exploration of the West. In the foreign policy Jefferson was less successful. To force Great Britain to respect the neutrality of the USA in the Napoleon Wars, he imposed a business embargo over Europe in 1807. The embargo brought no advantage to the USA, on the contrary: The American economy and the foreign trade of New England had to accept large losses for many years.

After his resignation from the presidency in 1809 Jefferson was consultant of his successors Madison and Monroe and influenced the political and cultural life in the USA.

Jefferson died on 4th July 1826 in Monticello. 

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