Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States. He also was responsible for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France at a price tag of $15 million, and effectively doubled the size of the new country.
Fact 1: In 1779, while Governor of Virgina, Thomas Jefferson drafted and had enacted into law the Statute for Religious Freedom. This bill eventually led to the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, guaranteeing religious liberty. The Statute for Religious Freedom was one of the three accomplishments in his life that Jefferson had inscribed on his tombstone, along with the Declaration of Independence and the University of Virgina.
Fact 2: The Jefferson Peace Medal was minted during Jefferson’s presidency. Its design acknowledges his role in the westward expansion of the United States. Besides the Louisiana purchase, Jefferson was responsible for the Lewis and Clark expedition, and a program of territorial acquisition in the American midwest, pressuring native American tribes to sell or cede their lands.
Fact 3: Thomas Jefferson could truly be called a Renaissance man. He was a scholar, architect, musician (he played the violin), inventor, and naturalist. He wrote and spoke six languages, and was a passionate book collector (his almost 10,000 volumes later became the basis of the present-day Library of Congress). At age 25 he was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses and later became that colony’s governor. He served in the Continental Congress and as an ambassador to France. After the United States achieved its independence he served as Secretary of State under Washington, Vice-President under John Adams, and as the third President.
Fact 4: Thomas Jefferson’s father, Peter Jefferson, encouraged his children to pursue musical studies. Thomas was known as a talented violinist, and was often invited to play at weekly social events at the home of the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Francis Fauquier. Through his contact with Fauquier, Jefferson became familiar with European political and social life which were influencing ideas and practices in the American colonies.
Fact 5: Jefferson was elected to the national congress in 1783. He served his term in Annapolis, and while there devised a decimal system for currency to replace the existing British one. His system is the one still in use today.
Fact 6: At the time of America’s struggle for independence, nations operating fleets in the Mediterranean were forced to pay levies to a coalition of pirates from the North African states of Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis (the Barbary Coast). Initially protected first by England and then by France, the newly formed United States paid in excess of a million dollars in ransoms and tributes. Jefferson, first as Secretary of State and later as President, argued against the payment of these tributes and urged military action against the pirates. When he became president in 1801, the US entered into a prolonged war, eventually declaring victory in 1805. However complete victory for the United States did not come until 1815.
Fact 7: During the War of 1812 the Capitol was sacked and burned by British forces, including the Library of Congress. On learning of this loss (at the time of its destruction in 1814 the Library boasted 3,000 books), Jefferson offered his own library to replace it. Although he estimated its contents at 9,000 to 10,000 books, records from the time indicate that Congress paid him $23,950 for 6,487 volumes.
Fact 8: Thomas Jefferson is the only Vice-President ever appointed or elected who was from a political party different from that of the serving President. He was a Democratic-Republican (Jefferson was the party’s founder) and John Adams was a Federalist.
Fact 9: Jefferson had some surprisingly naïve ideas about the likelihood of permanently eliminating British power in North America. In a letter to Colonel William Duane dated August 4, 1812 he wrote: “The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, and the final expulsion of England from the American continent.” He even believed that it might be possible to invade England itself, writing further in the same letter: “If they do [attack New York and Boston], we must burn the city of London, not by expensive fleets or congreve rockets, but by employing an hundred or two Jack-the-painters, whom nakedness famine, desperation and hardened vice, will abundantly furnish from among themselves. ”
Fact 10: An architectural contest was held in 1792 for a design for the Presidential residence (the White House). Jefferson was serving as Secretary of State at the time, but he entered a design in the contest under a pseudonym. A submission by James Hoban won the contest. Jefferson’s entry was only discovered in the 1930s when records of the contest designs were discovered. One of the entries was identical to a drawing in Jefferson’s own notebooks.