Biography of Thomas Jefferson

Prelude to the Presidency

As a member of the Continental Congress (1775-1776), Jefferson was chosen together with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingstone and Roger Sherman in 1776 to draft the Declaration of Independence. He wrote the declaration all by himself and was amended by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

Jefferson left Congress in the autumn of 1776 and served in the Virginia legislature until his election as governor in 1779. He was governor from 1779 to 1781.

During this brief private interval (1781-1783) he began to compile his Notes on the State of Virginia, which was first published in 1785. In this document there are some of his thoughts on the question of slavery. From 1783 to 1784 he was a member of the Continental Congress.

Minister to France

Jefferson's stay in France (1784-1789), where he was first a commissioner to negotiate commercial treaties and then Benjamin Franklin's successor as minister, was in many ways the richest period of his life. He was confirmed in his opinion that France was a natural friend of the United States, and Britain at this stage a natural rival.

Toward the end of his mission he reported with scrupulous care the unfolding revolution in France. Eventually he was repelled by the excesses of the French Revolution, and he thoroughly disapproved of it when it passed into an openly imperialistic phase under Napoleon.

Because of his absence in Europe, Jefferson had no direct part in the framing or ratification of the Constitution of the United States (17 sept. 1787), and at first the document aroused his fears. His chief objections were that it did not expressly safeguard the rights of individuals, and that the unlimited eligibility of the president for reelection would make it possible for him to become a king. He became sufficiently satisfied after he learned that a bill of rights would be provided and after be reflected that there would be no danger of monarchy under George Washington.

Secretary of state and vice-president

During Jefferson's service at this post as secretary of state from 1790 to 1793, Alexander Hamilton, secratary of the treasury, defeated the movement for commercial discrimination against Britain, which Jefferson favored. Jefferson's policy was not pro-French, but it seemed anti-British. Hamilton was distinctly pro-British.

By late 1792 or 1793 the opponents of Hamiltonianism constituted a fairly definite national party, calling itself Republican. Early in 1795 the Virginians in Congress forced Hamilton to quit his office.

Jefferson retired as Secretary of State at the end of the year 1793. During a respite of three years from public duties, he began to remodel his house at Monticello and interested himself greatly in agriculture.

He was supported by the Republicans for president in 1796, and running second to John Adams by three electoral votes, he became vice president.