JEFFERSON, THOMAS (ante), 1743-1826; b. Va.; author Of the American Declaration of Independence, and president of the United States from March 4, 1801, to March 4, 1809. Ile was the eldest among the eight children of Peter Jefferson, a Virginia planter, who held a leading place in his region, and Jane Randolph; both father and mother being natives; of Virginia. Thomas was educated :first in a common school in the ordinary studies for a boy of seven years of age, and when nine years old the rev. Mr. Douglass gave him instruction in French and in classical languages. He prepared for college under the tuition of the rev. Mr. Maury, and at the age of 17 became a student in the college of William and Mary. On.his way to•the college lie met and made the acquaintance of Patrick Henry, who was at that time a broken-down merchant, and had given no sign of the wonderful oratory for which he became famous at the beginning of the revolution. Jefferson was a hard-working student and speedily gained favor with his teachers; twelve to fifteen hours per day he devoted to his books, and became fairly versed in the clas sical tongues, and in Frena, Italian, and Spanish, to which he added a tolerable educa tion in mathematics. On leaving college he turned his attention to the law, studied for about five years under judge George Wythe, and in 1707, at the age of 24, was admitted to the bar. As a lawyer his success was immediate, and he soon had a wide practice, his income from clients in the first year being about $3,000 at a time when legal charges were comparatively light. In the following years lie was still more successful; and in 1771 a prominent lawyer put him in charge of all his unfinished litigation. In 1769 Jefferson was chosen a member of the Virginia house of burgesses, and immediately became conspicuous for his opposition to the encroachments of the British government. He is credited with writing the resolutions that contained the points of a reply to gov ernor Botetourt's speech. He was also one of the signers of the non-importation compact. The question of emancipating slaves was then agitated in England, but little had been heard on the subject in the colonies. Jefferson proposed an act which would give masters the right to free their slaves whenever they thought proper; but the bill failed to pass, and the principle was not established until 17 yearslater. His term over, he resumed law practice, removed to an unfinished house (subsequently world-famous as "Monticello"), and On New Year's day, 1772, was married to Martha Skelton, daughter of John Wales, a lawyer, and widow of BatburSt Skelton—a remarkably handsome and graceful woman of 23 years, who brought with her a considerable property. Among her property was 40,000 acres of land and 135 slaves. Added to about an equal amount belonging to the husband, they were enabled to begin wedded life on a liberal scale.
Early in 1773, Jefferson, lknry, and others, devised the famous committee of corre spondence for the spreading of political intelligence among the colonies, and the burgesses made the two men members of that committee. In the summer the governor dissolved the house, but an election was soon afterwards held at which all the members were re-chosen and appeared in their seats in the spring of 1774. Again the house was dissolved by the governor; but not until after passing a resolution offered by Jefferson to observe the 1st of June in fasting, humiliation, and prayer, because of the adoption in parliament of the Boston port bill. After the dissolution the burgesses met secretly and proposed a convention of deputies, to be chosen by the people and to meet Aug. 1. Of this convention Jefferson was made a member, but illness prevented his attendance.
This body was to choose delegates to the general congress of the colonies, and Jefferson wrote elaborate instructions for the guidance of the congressional delegates. These he sent to Peyton Randolph, the presiding officer of the convention. Some time afterwards, the burgesses directed the printing of these instructions, and the first of Jefferson's political writings appeared as "A Summary View of the Rights of British America." This document was revised by Edmund Burke and published in England, a eirellin stance which Jefferson supposed was the reason for including his name with others as a traitor in a bill to punish sedition. This "Summary" was a forcible argument for the right to resist oppressive taxation, and many of its points bear a close resemblance to certain parts of the Declaration of July 4, 1776. It was so radical that the convention refused to adopt it, most of the members still hoping for some peaceable compromise with the mother country. Jefferson was a member of the second Virginia convention. which met in the spring of 1775, and was one of the committee that reported a plan of defense. In the choice for members of congress Jefferson was selected as the substitute, for Peyton Randolph, whose duties as governor of the colony might prevent his attend ance. At the meeting of the burgesses June 1, Jefferson, though not is member, pre pared the answer of the Virginia assembly to the conciliatory propositions of the home government. On June 13 Washington appointed Jefferson commander-in-chief of the forces of the colonies, and this act placed the colonies in open resistance to the British government. In congress Jefferson's arrival was impatiently awaited; and when he came his bold and vigorous reply to lord North's " conciliatory proposals" was cordially approved. This document and the "Summary" gave him high position among the ablest men in congress; and though never making long speeches he was in committee so "prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive," says John Athfins, that he quickly won the warmest respect of his fellow-members. He was one of a committee to prepare a declaration of the reasons for an appeal to arms, and he and John Dickinson wrote the document which congress adopted. Jefferson was then requested to prepare the reply of congress to the proposals of lord North, and congress approved the reply and adjourned. In Nov., 1775, it was known that the last petition to the home government had been rejected. , In May, 1776, Virginia instructed her delegates in congress to urge a declaration of independence by the colonies. Events were hastening to a crisis; in the early part of June a committee to prepare such a declaration was chosen, and Jefferson was put at the head. By general consent the other members of the committee looked to him to prepare the document. He consented, and wrote the Arherican Magna Charts, all of which *RS his work, except two or three verbal changes proposed by Adams or Franklin. The declaration was presented to congress June 28. Four days afterwards a resolution offered by Richard Henry Tree, in obedience to instructions by Virginia, to the same effect as the coming declaration, Was adopted. On July 2, Jefferson's report was taken up, and a very warm debate followed-, occupying congress exclusively until the adoption of the famous document, Some of the most eminent members made vigo-, rous opposition. On the other side were equally eminent members as vigorously urging adoption. On Thursday, July 4, the declaration was adopted, and the record received a document that has no rival in importance in modern political history.