Friday, February 15, 2013

Thomas Jefferson

On our third Presidential Friday, we will discuss Thomas Jefferson. Both a Founding Father and writer of the Declaration of Independence, he has quite a reputation. But there's more to him than just that.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were close friends, then political enemies, then close friends again, eventually dying on the same day exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence (July 4th, 1826). It was due to Adams' nomination that Jefferson found himself at the forefront of politics during the Revolution and the chosen drafter of the Declaration. He served many positions, such as government of Virginia and foreign minister of France, but lost the presidential bid in 1796 to John Adams. Thomas Jefferson was a Democrat-Republican to John Adam's Federalist. But the number of votes Jefferson garnered still allowed him to become Adam's Vice President.

During the Quasi-War, as Adams enacted laws such as the Alien and Sedition Act, Jefferson banded with James Madison to assert States' Rights to not uphold these laws. While Madison preferred 'interposition', the act of a state declaring the governments' laws unconstitutional, Jefferson preferred nullification. He even drafted a threat of secession for the state of Kentucky. Quite the radical, Jefferson also shared with French consul Joseph Letombe his belief that Adams would serve only one term and his belief that France should invade England. He also encouraged Letombe to impede American negotiators with stalling.

Jefferson narrowly won the Presidency in 1800, defeating Adams due to slaves being counted as three-fifths of a person and defeating Aaron Burr (who was to become his Vice President) after tying him in electoral votes and putting the decision to the House of Representatives. But during his Presidency, Jefferson ended up reducing the national debt by a third. The war with France was over and Jefferson was able to severely cut military spending, and he also cut down an unpopular tax on whiskey.

He fought the Barbary War with North African pirates and oversaw the purchase of the Louisiana territory. While no mention of land acquisition was made in the Constitution, Jefferson toned down the strict sticking to the Constitution and bought the land for only 2.9 cents per acre, basically doubling the territory of the United States. Jefferson also directed famous explorers Lewis and Clarke.

Jefferson appeared to enforce the removal of Native Americans (especially for those who fought alongside the British), figuring the group of people should either assimilate or be removed. He won a second term, but his popularity suffered. The Embargo Act of 1807, meant to maintain neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars, dealt a heavy blow to the American economy. There was also conflict in the government, and Jefferson ended up trying his Vice President Aaron Burr of treason and attempting to secede the Western states into their own territory separate of the US. Jefferson also segregated the US postal system so it did not allow blacks to carry mail.

Jefferson was succeeded by James Madison. As per Jefferson's wish, his tombstone revealed the things he had given to the American people, including the Declaration.

Sources: Wikipedia, White,, Fun Trivia

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