But, first and foremost, Jefferson was a farmer. He once
said: “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth,
and no culture comparable to that of the garden."
He celebrated the occasion of his coming of age by planting
a beautiful avenue of trees near his house, which he had built upon a high
hill and given the name of "Monticello," meaning "little mountain." He
delighted in trying new things and imported a large number of trees and
shrubs to beautify his grounds, which were marvelous indeed.
We are told that "his interests were wide and intense," but
in nothing, perhaps, did he display a more unfaltering zeal than in the
cause of education. In his epitaph, which he wrote himself, Jefferson
makes no mention of his having been Governor of Virginia, Minister to
France, Secretary of State, Vice-President, and President of the United
States. Instead, there is a modest mention of the three things which he
considered had won him his most enduring title to fame, viz.: that he was
the “Author of the Declaration of Independence; of the statute of Virginia
for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia."
All of these had freedom for their core. “Free
government; free faith; free thought," says Ellis, in his
biography--"these were the treasures which Thomas
Jefferson bequeathed to his country and his State; and who, it may
well be asked, has ever left a nobler legacy to mankind?"
Jefferson was a
member of the convention which met in Richmond in March, 1775, to decide
what part Virginia should take in the coming war. He fully endorsed the
words of his friend, Henry, when that “Demosthenes of the woods”
electrified his hearers with the thrilling cry: "Gentlemen may cry,'
Peace, peace!' but there is no peace! The war has actually begun! The next
gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of
resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here
idle? What is it the gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear
or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as
for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
When George Washington was elected commander-in chief,
Jefferson took the place which he vacated in Congress. He was at once
recognized as an influential member. No one was better than he on
committees. He was so prompt, frank, and decisive. Again, no one had a
clearer insight of a situation or understood his countrymen better. He was
sagacious, wise, and prudent; by birth an aristocrat, but, by nature, a
democrat. He cared very little for pomp and ceremony, and despised titles
and the insignia of rank. He could not make a brilliant speech, but in his
hand the pen waxed mighty indeed
Jefferson is known to fame chiefly because of his
authorship of that immortal document, the Declaration of Independence. In
June, 1776, he was appointed one of a committee of five to draw up such a
document. The other members were Benjamin Franklin, John
Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Providence must have decreed that the
lot of writing it should fall to Jefferson, for no one else could have
written it so eloquently, so inspiringly. The achievement was dear to his
heart, for he directed that these lines be carved upon the granite obelisk
at his grave: “Here lies buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the
Declaration of Independence." Glory enough for one man!
On New Year's Day, 1772,
Thomas Jefferson was married to Mrs.
Martha Wayles Skelton, a beautiful, childless young widow. Their life
together was a most happy one; Jefferson was an ideal husband and father,
and his wife was "one of the truest wives with which any man was ever
blessed of heaven." She died just after the close of the Revolution. Six
children were born to them, but only two -- Martha and Mary -- lived to
Jefferson looked at
life through the lens of a philosopher. Here are ten rules which he
considered necessary for a practical life:
1 - Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
2 - Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3 - Never spend your money before you have it.
4 - Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap: it
will be dear to you.
5 - Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, or cold.
6 - We never repent of having eaten too little.
7 - Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8 - How much pain has cost us the evils which have never
9 - Take things always by their smooth handle.
10-When angry count ten before you speak; if very angry, a
Needless to say that he followed these rules to the letter.
Jefferson was known
far and wide for his fairness and justice. He had hosts of friends
everywhere, and he entertained them with such lavish hospitality that, in
his old age, he was brought to the verge of want, and had to mortgage his
slavery as a great moral and political evil. He once said: "I tremble for
my country when I remember that God is just." He treated the slaves on his
large estate so kindly that they almost worshiped him. It is said that
when he returned from his five years' absence as Minister to France, his
slaves were so overjoyed that they took him from the carriage and carried
him into the house, laughing and crying, and otherwise expressing their
joy because “massa done got home again."
When George Washington became President, he made Jefferson a
member of his cabinet as Secretary of State. Here, he collided with
Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury. The two were exact
opposites in many ways, and could no more mix than oil and water. It
required all of Washington's tact to keep peace between them. “Each found
the other so intolerable that he wished to resign that he might be freed
from meeting him." At last Jefferson could stand it no longer. He resigned
in January, 1794, and returned to his beloved farming at Monticello.
Two years later he and John Adams were the candidates for
the Presidency. Adams received 71 votes and Jefferson 68. As the law then
stood, this made him Vice-President. Adams was a Federalist, Jefferson a
Republican. Therefore, it was not perhaps to be expected that they should
agree. Adams, however, did not try. He simply ignored Jefferson in all
political matters. At the next election, Jefferson and Adams were again
the candidates for the Presidency and Jefferson was elected. The
quick-tempered Adams was so nettled over the affair that he arose at
daybreak, on the day of the inauguration, and set out in his coach for
Massachusetts, refusing to wait and see his successor installed in office.
In later years, however, he repented of his foolishness. Jefferson and he
became reconciled and kept up a friendly correspondence to the end of
Jefferson was much beloved. His inauguration
was observed as a national holiday throughout the country. Of course, this
was distasteful to Jefferson, who hated pomp and ceremony. A story is on
record to the effect that he rode to the Capitol on horseback and hitched
his horse to the fence, while he went in, unattended, to take the oath of
Whether it be true or not, we know that during his term of
office Jefferson frowned upon all display, and would have no honors shown
to him that might not have been offered to him as a citizen.
chose James Madison, his most intimate friend at that time, for his
Secretary of State. Congenial men made up the remainder of the cabinet.
This "happy family" worked together in peace and harmony throughout the
two terms of Jefferson's presidency. Many important national events marked
his administration. Chief of them all was the
purchase of the Louisiana
Territory from France, in 1803, for fifteen millions of dollars.
Eleven entire States and parts of four others were later carved from this
retired forever from public life at the close of his second term. “From
that time," said Daniel Webster, ”Mr. Jefferson
lived as becomes a wise man. Surrounded by affectionate friends, his ardor
in the pursuit of knowledge undiminished; with uncommon health and
unbroken spirits, he was able to enjoy largely the rational pleasures of
life; and to partake of that public prosperity to which he had contributed
so much. His kindness and hospitality; the charm of his conversation; the
ease of his manners; and especially the full store of revolutionary
incidents which he possessed, and which he knew when and how to dispense,
rendered his abode attractive in a high degree to his admiring countrymen.
His high public and scientific character drew toward him every intelligent
and educated traveler from abroad."
“The Sage of Monticello" died on the afternoon of July 4,
1826. A few hours afterward John Adams, too, breathed his last. Thus
passed away, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of
Independence, the two men who had been the most instrumental in bringing
it about. “Their country is their monument; its independence their
Inez Nellie Canfield McFee, 1913. Compiled and
of America, updated September, 2017.