Thomas Jefferson: Facts & Presidency

Instructor: Tiffany Wayne
In this lesson, you'll learn about the key contributions of philosopher, statesman, and third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Read on to learn about his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, his negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase, and his philosophical principles that shaped the early United States.

Do You Know Who…

  • Donated his own private book collection of more than 6,000 volumes to replenish the Library of Congress after the nation's library was destroyed in the War of 1812?
  • Held one of the first and largest private collections of Native American artifacts?
  • Was one of the first Americans to grow tomatoes and is credited with introducing ketchup to the American dinner table?

The answer to all three happens to be the same man who authored the Declaration of Independence, established the principle of separation of church and state, and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. Thomas Jefferson definitely left his mark on American cultural life as well as on its political culture.

Early Career

Perhaps more than any other founder, Thomas Jefferson was responsible for establishing some of the key political philosophies and guiding principles of the United States. He influenced national political and economic developments long before he became president of the United States in 1800.

Portrait of President Thomas Jefferson by artist Rembrandt Peale
Thomas Jefferson

As Secretary of State under President George Washington, Thomas Jefferson helped shape the new nation's economic structure and philosophy. Jefferson opposed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's Federalist efforts to increase the power of the federal government in the creation of a national bank and in promoting industry, foreign trade, and military alliances. Instead, Jefferson, the anti-Federalist (or Republican), argued for a limited role for federal government based on a strict interpretation of powers granted in the Constitution, a national economy based on farming rather than industry, and a commitment to protecting individual and states' rights.

Jefferson represented the views of mostly wealthy Southern landowners like himself, many of them slaveholders as well. Jeffersonian Republicans wanted to create an America that was both tied to the land and forward-looking in its politics, economy, and technological innovation. As a politician, he promoted the growth of the United States as an 'agrarian republic' - a nation of self-sufficient and self-governing farmers. However, he did not acknowledge that most of the 'farming' in the south was done by slaves, nor did he foresee how the issue of slavery would further divide the nation that he had worked to unify. It is ironic that the slaveholding Jefferson provided the very language in the Declaration of Independence that would be used to challenge slavery in decades to come: 'All men are created equal.'

Presidency

After serving a term as rival Federalist John Adams' Vice President, the Republican candidate Jefferson was elected president in 1800. During his two terms as president (serving from 1801 to 1809), he promoted his vision of U.S. economic and military strength through the spread of agricultural settlement across the entire continent. He more than doubled the geographical size of the United States with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and sent Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to the Pacific, beginning the opening of the Far West to white settlement.

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