The second political party, the Democratic-Republican Party, wasn’t officially founded until 1799, and it came into power at the very time that Thomas Jefferson was elected president. Jefferson had organized it when he was secretary of state and its purpose was to oppose the Federalist Party. Basically, it believed more in states’ rights and farmer’s rights, in contrast to the Federalists, who believed in a strong national system of government.
Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence besides being the founder of this new party and the candidate who had defeated John Adams in that dirty election, moved into the White House in 1801. He was a widower. He was from a wealthy family and had graduated from the College of William & Mary and practiced law in colonial Virginia as a young man. At that time in his career, he sometimes defended slaves who were seeking their freedom, an unordinary conflict of interest. When his father died, Jefferson had inherited slaves as well as Monticello, the estate he spent half his life remodeling and to which he eventually retired. Like George Washington, Jefferson also married a woman named Martha, and together they had had 6 children, but only two reached adulthood.
Jefferson had the same background a modern candidate seeking a bid to the presidency might have: he became a congressman representing the State of Virginia, was then elected governor of the State of Virginia, after which he served as the first Secretary of State and finally as the Vice President of the country before becoming president. There was a dramatic incident that occurred when he was governor that was never fully explained although it was avidly discussed and gossiped about at the time. He was elected as governor during the Revolutionary war, and it was his job to raise troops, weapons and supplies for the war. The war was mostly being fought in the states of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Jefferson never fought in the war, but suddenly the British marched into his state of Virginia, determined to capture the governor, and he narrowly escaped. It was near the end of his term as governor, and Jefferson refused to return to the state capital and assume his office, therefore leaving his state without a governor at a critical time. He was criticized for this decision for the rest of his life. There will be a reenactment of his narrow escape at his home, Monticello, on June 3rd and 4th, 2017, and it is a great story.
But Jefferson is mostly remembered for his achievements, and in particular for being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Declaration of Independence was actually a declaration of war against King George. John Adams was one of four other men who had helped with the document, but Jefferson is considered its primary author. The part that most Americans know by heart is, “all men are created equal and governments are formed among them to represent the people”, which was something few people thought about at that time, and also something that Jefferson did not put into practice.
Thomas Jefferson’s Martha was a widow when they married and he and his wife were third cousins. Martha brought along a dowry of slaves as well as debts her father had incurred. Among her more than 100 slaves was Betty Hemings, a woman of mixed-race who had 10 mixed-race children. Most of those children had been fathered by Martha’s father, so they were her half-siblings. The youngest, just a baby, was named Sally Hemings.
According to history, Martha Jefferson was well educated and musical. She loved to read and was an accomplished embroiderer. She began to brew beer during her first year at Monticello, and Jefferson continued this practice until his death. Their marriage lasted almost 11 years, when Martha died at age 33 after enduring delicate health for many years. Today it is believed that she suffered from diabetes, aggravated by her pregnancies. Before she died, Martha asked Thomas Jefferson to never marry again, probably to protect her children from step-mothers. Thomas Jefferson was 39 when she died and suffered serious depression after the loss of Martha. But he never remarried. When Jefferson became president, he named James Madison as his Secretary of State. Dolly Madison, James’ wife, was often Jefferson’s hostess and James Madison succeeded Jefferson as president.
So he moved into the White House as a widower and a slave owner, and took along a staff of slaves to serve him. Most historians agree that he had a long-standing affair with Sally Hemings, the youngest of the slaves his deceased wife had inherited. Jefferson and Sally reportedly had 6 children together and Jefferson apparently had mixed feelings about slavery. He freed all of Sally’s children, but he never freed Sally. Jefferson also had white servants in the White House, and once wrote to his daughter that he preferred them, because he could fire them when they “misbehaved”. He paid his servants salaries, as did the two earlier presidents. Thomas Jefferson was not the first or last president who was an unfathomable human paradox, one who rationalized his lifestyle and achieved great fame for things he did not exactly put into practice.
When Jefferson was serving as Secretary of State, he made a serious enemy of Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist. This is the very same man who the current Broadway musical hit, “Hamilton”, is about and the one that Trump and his supporters declared a boycott against during the 2016 presidential election. But going back to the 1700s, becoming an enemy of Hamilton also made Jefferson an enemy of George Washington. After Jefferson left his post as Secretary of State, Washington never spoke to him again. This enemyship caused him a great problem during his presidency. One of the first things did after taking office was to revoke the Whiskey Tax law that Hamilton had put into effect when George Washington was president.
At the end of Jefferson’s first term, his vice president, Aaron Burr, killed Alexander Hamilton, in an illegal duel. The duel was provoked by political insults and accusations, similar to today’s political clamor. There was enormous public outrage, and Vice President Burr lay low in a southern state while the State of New York and the State of New Jersey were deciding on who would accuse him of what. Vice President Burr was officially a resident of New York, but the dual had taken place in New Jersey. Burr eventually showed up in Washington again when the senate held an impeachment trial for a Supreme Court justice who had been accused of letting his Federalist leanings affect his court decisions. The vice president was eventually acquitted, but not before evoking more anger and hate nationwide.
Burr stepped down from his vice presidency, and was never charged with murder. But he did manage to cause more trouble in the Jefferson administration. After leaving his post, he began to aggressively form an army to seize America’s western territories. He was eventually arrested and tried for treason. However, he was again acquitted. After that trial, he lived in Europe for a time but ended up returning to New York City and practicing law. His wrongdoings ended in pizza, as they say in Brazil.
One noncontroversial achievement of Jefferson’s was the founding of the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York State in 1802. It is still one of the most prestigious universities in the United States and most candidates need, besides top grades, a recommendation from a member of congress.
And he was the third president to have pets; Dick, a mockingbird, and two grizzly bear cubs. The cubs were a gift from an explorer, and soon became too big for their cages. They lived for some time in an enclosure on the lawn of the White House, where passers-byes liked to see them playing, and where his political opponents found new ammunition to mock the president. President Jefferson finally shipped them to a museum.
Jefferson continued to negotiate with the Barbary Coast pirates who had been attacking America since it gained its independence and had to give up British and French protection of its ships. Remember the Betsey, seized in 1784? The previous president, John Adams, had wanted to wait for the new country to build up a serious navy but Jefferson felt that continuing to pay tributes to the pirates encouraged more attacks. The fact that the pirates greatly increased their tributes when Thomas Jefferson took office bolstered his argument. Jefferson’s party, the Democratic-Republicans believed the future of the country was in the expansion of the West, and trade with Europe would siphon off money from the new country. The other party, the Federalists, who wanted more power centralized in the federal government, was generally of the opinion that money should be spent to keep the pirates at bay. Discontinuing the payment of tributes to the pirates was no easier than overturning ObamaCare. After a series of failed negotiations, Jefferson asked congress for a declaration of war. Congress approved and in 1801, the same year that Jefferson began his first presidential term, America began its first war against terrorism, called the First Barbary War. Sweden, already at war with the pirates, became their ally. The war was bloody and complicated, kind of like an action movie script, but at least it was not fought on American soil. The First Barbary War ended in 1805 with a treaty while Thomas Jefferson was still in office, so he probably thought he wasn’t leaving the pirate problem for the next president to solve. However, as you may have already guessed, there was to be a second Barbary War.
A year before Jefferson became president, Spain had ceded the Louisiana Territory to France, the stronger nation of the two. Napoleon immediately sent military forces to secure New Orleans. Southern Americans worried that Napoleon would free all the slaves in Louisiana, which could trigger slave uprisings throughout the United States. Jefferson himself became worried that Napoleon’s “acquisition policies” would threaten that part of America. The Americans began to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans and its adjacent land. The Federalists felt that it was unconstitutional to acquire any territory and loudly opposed its purchase. They did not, however, consider the acquisition of Native American land to be unconstitutional. One of the many reasons the opposing party protested was that they objected to anything that Thomas Jefferson proposed, much like the way the Republicans opposed anything and everything that Barak Obama tried to do. To make a long (and interesting) story short, America signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty in April of 1803. The news didn’t reach Washington until July of that year. The United States had doubled its size, at a sum of less than 3 cents per acre.
Throughout his life, Thomas Jefferson, maintained that Native Americans were not inferior people but were equal in mind and body as any European. But that did nothing to stop him from expelling them from their tribal lands as the Americans expanded westward. When he became president, the British were inciting Canadian tribes, creating a lot of conflict in the colonized USA. President Jefferson began a “civilization program” which was about creating US-Indian treaty alliances and encouraging agriculture. This program advocated that the tribes should purchase what he considered to be federal lands by credit, holding their lands as collateral for repayment. He believed that Indians should assimilate American customs and American culture. Some tribes agreed to purchase their own land, and some didn’t. Jefferson also believed that Indians who attacked the “Americans” should be exterminated or driven west to territories that the new Americans hadn’t yet found any use for.
Thomas Jefferson was considered successful at the end of his first term as president, and he ran for a second term. He found himself a new running mate for vice president, of course. His opposing candidate was John Adams’ vice-presidential candidate in the 1800 election. Because Jefferson had lowered taxes, purchased Louisiana, and generally improved the economy, he won by a landslide with an Electoral College vote of 162 to 14.
Thomas Jefferson, who had borrowed gold in England with treasury bonds to make the Louisiana Purchase and claimed he wanted to eliminate the national debt because he saw it as “a cesspool of patronage and corruption” really wanted to acquire Florida. He thought it might be as easy as the acquisition of Louisiana. It wasn’t. Spain controlled Florida and wasn’t about to sell or cede. When the rebels in Saint-Dominguez declared independence from France in 1804, Jefferson refused to recognize the nation of Haiti. In part, he hoped this would win Napoleon’s support with the purchase of Florida. Napoleon instead made Spain his ally. American slaveholders were very frightened by the slave massacres of the planters during the Haitian rebellion and feared it would encourage a slave revolt in their America, in part because of America’s non-recognition of the Haiti. Jefferson’s policy also passed the wealth of the sugar cane trade to the British. Spain held on to Florida, even after Jefferson offered France a bribe to ally with the US. When the revelation that Thomas Jefferson had offered a bribe became public, it provoked outrage and he became weakened both at home and abroad. The US did not recognize Haiti until 1862.
The United States and Great Britain became engaged in a serious trade war during Jefferson’s second term. The Royal Navy, always at war and always suffering from a shortage of sailors, began to impress sailors from American ships into its service. Between 1793 and 1812, the British impressed more than 15,000 US sailors to supplement their own men during their Napoleonic wars with France. This turned out to be one of the reasons the US would declare war on Great Britain in 1812. But at this time, Jefferson was not thinking about another war and he used embargoes, which unfortunately hurt the US more than it did the British.
During his second term as president, the issue of slavery would just not go away. In 1806, Jefferson officially denounced the international slave as a violation of human rights and asked congress to make it a crime. Congress approved a law called the Act of Prohibiting Importation of Slaves the next year. But Thomas Jefferson did not give up his convenient affair with his slave Sally.
Thomas Jefferson’s most prominent personality trait was his curiosity. He knew how to enjoy retirement when he left the White House in 1809. He returned to his beloved plantation, Monticello, and began to study science, natural history and philosophy. He read both Plato’s Republic and the Bible in the original Greek. He spoke 5 languages, and perfected his Spanish after retirement. Jefferson also cut up an English version of the Bible and rearranged it into his version of the life of Jesus. He kept up major correspondence with people from all over the world, using both his right hand and later his left hand as he grew older and weaker. But his major achievement during retirement was that he founded the University of Virginia. He designed all of its campus buildings, set up its curriculum and even chose its faculty. But retired presidents had no pensions in those days and Jefferson had money problems. He maintained a high-profile lifestyle, with fine wine and many guests to share with. Sometimes he had as many as 50 houseguests. Jefferson had the largest personal collection of books in the United States. After the British burned the nation’s capitol and the library of Congress in 1814, he sold his books to the Library to replace their loss, and to raise money for himself. He still owned a lot of slaves when he retired, but eventually used most of them as collateral for borrowing money. Some say that he didn’t free his slaves because they had been mortgaged to his creditors. He said he didn’t free them because he worried about what would happen to them as free people.
Thomas Jefferson contracted rheumatism and had an enlarged prostate and could barely move when the fiftieth anniversary of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence was celebrated in Washington, D.C. in 1826. When his doctor whispered that he had lived to the fourth of July, he lapsed into a coma and died. John Adams also died on the fourth of July of that year, just a few hours later in his home. After his death, Jefferson’s legitimate daughter gave the slave Sally her freedom.
You can visit Jefferson’s beloved home, Monticello, which is both interesting and open every day all year around. If you do, keep in mind that Jefferson was the architect for the renovation the house underwent after he inherited it. And if you are in D.C., you might want to visit the Jefferson Building, which is part of the Library of Congress, and open Mondays through Saturdays all year around also. There was a fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 that destroyed nearly two thirds of the 6,487 books that the library had purchased from Jefferson, but the library is still very interesting and has lots of other exhibits, including artwork.
President Jefferson took office in contentious times and left office after 8 years of contention. Historians usually rank him as one of the top five US presidents, although we know he was flawed and controversial, as most human beings are to varying degrees.
In order not to embarrass myself, I won’t promise anything as to the length of the next presidential biography, but I truly hope it will be shorter, both for my sake and yours.
Tattoos have been around for more than 5,000 years. Egyptians, for example, used tattoos to differentiate between peasants and slaves, a kind of social branding. But ink art, which is what some fans like to call tattooing, has really exploded in the past 25 years. But not all of us have succumbed to this fad. And many of us who don’t have a tattoo have a favorite mug. Having a tattoo or becoming attached to a mug are not dissimilar. According to research, 60% of Americans say they have an emotional attachment to a favorite mug. And about 40% said their special mug was irreplaceable, and about 1/3 of those said they would be devastated if it broke. Personally, I think that most of these people don’t have tattoos. Mugs and tattoos are both an extension of our personalities, and both express the way we would like the world to perceive us. That is not to mention, of course, that those of us who have tattoos or mugs are often irrationally attached to them.