Name: Thomas Jefferson
Lifespain: April 13, 1743 (?) or April 2nd, 1743 (?) – July 4th, 1826. (Yet again, Julian Calendar people complicate everything. Leave it to the British to sort this out… http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/quick_reference.htm)
Home State: Virginia
Served as President: 1801-1809
Vice President: Aaron Burr (1801-1805); George Clinton (1805-1809)
Spouse: Martha Wayles Jefferson
Historian Rank: 4
Why you may LOVE him…
Thomas Jefferson was the quintessential American Renaissance Man. His accomplishments and achievements are equal to some small countries. There was hardly any subject that Jefferson did not comment on in his life, from the five languages he spoke to the 6,000 books that became the Library of Congress. Kennedy once complimented the intellectual talent before him as the greatest collection of minds in the White House since Jefferson dined alone. He broke unbelievable ground when he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and his classic The Notes on the State of Virginia. All of his works were well ahead of their time and excruciatingly relevant even in the 21st century. For better or worse, he did not invent the American Political Party but he came close to perfecting it. Just two decades after forming his Democratic-Republican Party, he swept himself into office as President and sent the Federalist Party to oblivion. If his political acumen is not impressive enough, Jefferson reigned during the Louisiana Purchase, one of the greatest land grabs in World History. He then was instrumental in launching the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a ecological masterpiece study of the American West. All of this while keeping the nation at peace. As England and France were engaged in the bloody lose-lose nature of the Napoleonic War, American commerce prospered more than ever. Finally, anyone who has walked the campus of the University of Virginia can marvel at the national treasure created by the greatest of American thinkers. He saw the American Revolution bigger than perhaps any contemporary refusing to be a small irrelevant pocket of the world but instead being the first step in a global revolution. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, become the first Secretary of State, second Vice President and finally, the third President. He ushered America out of the cradle and into the world. Was there anything he could not do?
Why you may HATE him…
Jefferson is one of those historical figures that many claim to be enamored with but surely would frown upon his actions. What a pity it will be for our right wing friends to find out that this Founder had nothing to do with writing the Constitution, never openly supported it, and stood idly by as it came dangerously close to being rejected. When the new government was formed the first Secretary of State hired Philip Freneau, a New Yorker who only knew English, as a State Department translator. Freneau would go on to be a partisan hack, writing a newspaper that would make MSNBC blush all while on the government dollar. Freneau’s National Gazette once led to an angry mob out to kill Washington and only then did Jefferson concede maybe they had gone too far. Jefferson frequently called Washington senile because he disagreed with him and concocted a bogus government scandal involving Alexander Hamilton which proved absurdly untrue. Shortly after leaving office his Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were cited as precedents for the 1832 Nullification Crisis and eventually the Civil War. Once President, Jefferson delighted in the fame he was garnered for the Louisiana Purchase even though he had nothing to do with it and his constitutional (he’s a fan now!) scruples almost killed the deal. Finally, in 1807 he launched a disastrous embargo policy that ruined New England’s economy, foolishly playing into French hands and probably handed his successor the War of 1812 by irrevocably exploding American-British relations. Finally, this lover of liberty, crusader for the rights of man and unabashed supporter of freedom owned people. He may have fathered children with one of them and actively thwarted abolition movements until the day he died. Historians almost universally gloss over slave ownership but as the self-proclaimed champion of liberty, Jefferson should have been better. He had to be better. Does this sound like a hero to you?
SOME BONUS JEFFERSON VITRIOL !!!
On August 16th, 2013, ousted Egyptian Prime Minster Mohamed Morsi semi-quoted Jefferson when he opined, “bloodshed irrigates the tree of liberty in Egypt.” He was not taking the Founding Father out of context. Jefferson was a worldwide revolutionary in the 18th Century, almost delighting in the deaths of monarchs, naively loving the French Revolution and patting himself on the back for a worldwide revolution that was not occurring. He would not turn on his beloved French. Not after the Reign of Terror. Not after the beheading of their King and Queen. Jefferson simply believed the bloodshed was somehow necessary to a liberty revolution. Jefferson was no friend of peaceful revolution in his time and continues to inspire violence to this day.
Final Verdict in Five Words: He should have known better.