• Thomas Jefferson had a privileged upbringing in Virginia, which allowed him to receive an excellent education, culminating with his pursuit of law after attending the College of William and Mary.
• Jefferson became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he became a more vocal opponent of British rule over the American colonies.
• During the Second Continental Congress in 1776 Jefferson was selected, due to his strong writing skills, to draft the Declaration of Independence.
• During the American Revolution, Jefferson served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and then a short stint as Virginia’s governor.
• Jefferson spent four years as America’s minister to France after the war, and during this time he kept in contact with the framers of the Constitution in the United States, emphasizing the need for a bill of rights that would protect citizens’ basic rights.
• When George Washington became president, he named Jefferson as his secretary of state, and after finishing second in the presidential election of 1796 Jefferson served as vice president to John Adams.
• Jefferson’s opposition to many of Adams’ policies helped him win the presidential election of 1800.
How he defined the office
• Jefferson did not believe in a strong central government, yet when called to make decisions as president that didn’t necessarily align with that belief (the Louisiana Purchase, for example), he used the full force of the office.
Successes and failures
• The Louisiana Purchase began with the intention to buy the strategic port of New Orleans from the French, but France was desperate for money and sold most of the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains to the United States for $15 million. The purchase doubled the nation’s size, and Jefferson sent a mission led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the land.
• After England and France went to war in 1803, England began seizing U.S. ships. This escalated to the point where England fired on an American ship, killing three, and in response Jefferson stopped trading with all of Europe and would not allow British ships into U.S. ports. Eventually the U.S. reopened trade with all countries except for England and France, and this was one of the events that led to the War of 1812.
• “I believe (America’s government is) ... the strongets government on earth. I believe it is the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.” — from his first inaugural address, March 4, 1801.