By Anna Hicks
Thomas Jefferson – April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826
Even more so than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson truly is the Founding Father of American History. In addition to serving as America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson was also the Governor of Virginia, the first Secretary of State serving under President George Washington, the Vice President to President John Adams, and a vital leader of the Continental Congress that helped establish America as a separate and unique nation.
How much do you really know about Thomas Jefferson and his numerous contributions to America’s democracy? Here are a few highlights of his many accomplishments…
Declaration of Independence
Jefferson reportedly did not want the heavy responsibility of writing the Declaration of Independence.
But after urging by John Adams, Jefferson took up the task and completed the historical document in seventeen days. With its opening statement, “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” through the now-iconic sentence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that their Creator endows them with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” Jefferson set the foundation for America’s independence and his new country’s values.
Why do we use pennies, dimes, quarters, and dollars? Because of Thomas Jefferson. Before the American Revolution, the colonies used British currency; when it came time to designate an American currency, Jefferson successfully argued for our current decimal system.
United States Policies
During the early years of the United States, many of our policy decisions were created and set down by Jefferson himself. Whether in his role as Secretary of State or his later role as President, Jefferson wrote and signed numerous documents, including those describing how the Law of Nations would function in the new United States and how the United States would expand into further territories such as those making up the historic Louisiana Purchase. The Raab Collection has many of these documents on file; examining the collection shows how elegant Jefferson was as a politician and a philosopher.
The Louisiana Purchase
As noted above, Thomas Jefferson was fundamental in helping the United States achieve the Louisiana Purchase. It was one of the key accomplishments of his presidency and helped the United States expand into what we now know as the American Midwest. Thomas Jefferson appointed the two great explorers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to begin their historic expedition across the North American continent.
Jefferson’s position on slavery is often viewed as one of the less-enlightened spots in an otherwise illustrious career. Still, it is important to remember that, although Jefferson owned slaves, he was also a highly vocal opponent of slavery and drafted multiple laws in an attempt to abolish slavery in the United States. To better understand Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to slavery and his many attempts to drive the slave trade out of the newly-founded America, read the information collected at the Jefferson Monticello historical site.
The historical evidence is clear: without Thomas Jefferson, the United States would not be the democracy it is today. He was fundamental in establishing United States expansion, in creating a thoughtful and respectful system of interacting with other nations, in setting down the new United States currency, in launching opposition to slavery, and in leading a nation based on equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some many men and women helped launch American History, but the Founding Father of them all has to be Thomas Jefferson.
© Anna Hicks, December 2013, updated February 2023.
About the Author: Anna Hicks is the blogger behind paidtwice.com. While she once wanted to be a teacher, she now gets her history fix by writing on the subject. She also enjoys writing about DIY, personal finance, and her terrible cooking skills.
Thomas Jefferson – The Sage of Monticello (bio by McFee, 1913)
American History (main page)