Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States (1801–1809) and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776).
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was the third President of the United States (1801–1809) and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). An influential Founding Father, Jefferson envisioned America as a great "Empire of Liberty" that would promote republicanism.
Jefferson served as the wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781), barely escaping capture by the British in 1781. Many people were not pleased with his tenure and in the next election he did not win office again in Virginia. From mid-1784 through late 1789 Jefferson lived outside the United States. He served in Paris initially as a commissioner to help negotiate commercial treaties. In May 1785 he succeeded Benjamin Franklin as the U.S. Minister to France.
He was the first United States Secretary of State (1789–1793) under George Washington and advised him against a national bank and the Jay Treaty. He was the second Vice President (1797–1801) under John Adams. Winning on an anti-federalist platform, Jefferson took the oath of office and became President of the United States in 1801. As president he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the vast new territory and lands further west. Jefferson always distrusted Britain as a threat to American security; he rejected a renewal of the Jay Treaty that his ambassadors had negotiated in 1806 with Britain and promoted aggressive action, such as the embargo laws, that contributed to the already escalating tensions with Britain and France leading to war with Britain in 1812 after he left office.
Jefferson idealized the independent yeoman farmer as exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and favored states' rights and a limited federal government. Jefferson supported the separation of church and state and was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786). Jefferson's revolutionary view on individual religious freedom and protection from government authority have generated much interest with modern scholars. He was the eponym of Jeffersonian democracy and the co-founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, which dominated American politics for 25 years.
Born into a prominent planter family, Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves throughout his life; he held views on the racial inferiority of Africans common for this period in time. While historians long discounted accounts that Jefferson had an intimate relationship with his slave Sally Hemings, it is now widely held that he did and had six children by her.
Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages and could read two others. He was a major book collector with an enormous library, much of which he sold to the Library of Congress in 1814 after the British set fire to the Capitol which destroyed most of its works. He wrote more than sixteen thousand letters and was acquainted with nearly every influential person in America, and many throughout Europe. Jefferson is constantly rated by historical scholars as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.