Thomas Jefferson

THOMAS JEFFERSON, the third President of the United States of America, was born April 2, (old style,) 1743, at Shadwell, in Albemarle County, Virginia, and was the eldest of eight children. His father, though his education had been entirely neglected in early life, being a man of strong mind, acquired, by subsequent study, considerable information. He died when the subject of our sketch was about twelve years old, having previously given him every means of knowledge that could be procured, and left him a considerable estate. After going through a course of school instruction, young Jefferson entered the college of William and Mary where he remained for two years. He then commenced the study of law under the guidance of the celebrated George Wythe, by whom, in 1767, he was introduced to its practice, at the bar of the general court of the colony, at which he continued until the revolution. In 1769 he was elected a member of the provincial legislature from the county where he resided, and made a fruitless effort, in that body, for the emancipation of the slaves. By this time a spirit of opposition had been excited in the colonies to the arbitrary measures of the British government and when the governor of Virginia dissolved the general assembly, in 1769, in consequence of the sympathy which was displayed by the majority of its members with the feelings which had been manifested in Massachusetts, they met, the next day, in the public room of the Raleigh tavern, formed themselves into a convention, drew up articles of association against the use of any merchandise imported from Great Britain, and signed and recommended them to the people. They then repaired to their respective counties, and were all reelected, except those few who had declined assenting to their proceedings. In 1773 Mr. Jefferson associated himself with several of the boldest and most active of his companions in the house, not thinking,' as he says himself, ' the old and leading members up to the point of forwardness and zeal which the times required,') and with them formed the system of committees of correspondence, in a private room of the same Raleigh tavern. This system was adopted as the best instrument for communication between the different colonies, by which they might be brought to a mutual understanding, and a unity of action produced. This end was completely accomplished, as well as another object, that of exciting through out the colonies a desire for a general congress. It was accordingly resolved that one should be held, and in Virginia a convention was assembled for the purpose of choosing delegates. Of this convention Mr. Jefferson was elected a member but being suddenly taken ill on the road, as he was repairing to Williamsburg, its place of meeting, he sent on to its chairman, Peyton Randolph, a draft of instructions which he had prepared as proper to be given to the delegates who should be sent to congress. It was laid on the table for perusal; but, though approved by many, the sentiments contained in it were too bold to be adopted by the majority: tamer sentiments,' in his own words, were preferred, and, I believe, wisely preferred; the leap I proposed being too long, as yet, for the mass of our citizens.' The position that he maintained was, that the relation between Great Britain and the colonies was exactly the same as that between England and Scotland, after the accession of James, and until the union, and the same as her relations with Hanover, having the same executive chief, but no other political connection. In this doctrine, however, the only person who entirely concurred with him was George Wythe, the other patriots stopping at the half-way house of John Dickinson, who admitted that England had a right to regulate our commerce, and to lay duties on it for the purposes of regulation, but not of raising revenue.' Though the paper was not adopted, the convention, nevertheless, caused it to be printed in a pamphlet form, under the title of a Summary View of the Rights of British America. Having found its way to England, it was taken up by the opposition, and, with a few interpolations of Mr. Burke, passed through several editions. It procured for its author considerable reputation, and likewise the dangerous honor of having his name placed on a list of proscriptions, in a bill of attainder, which was commenced in one of the houses of parliament, but was speedily suppressed. June 21, 1775, Mr. Jefferson took his seat for the first time in congress, having been chosen to fill the place of Peyton Randolph, who had resigned. In this new capacity, he persevered in the decided tone which he had assumed, always maintaining that no accommodation should be made between the two countries, unless on the broadest and most liberal basis. After serving on several committees, he was at length appointed a member of that, whose report has linked the name of its author with the history of American independence. June 7, 1776, the delegates from Virginia, in compliance with the instructions of the convention, moved that congress should declare the United Colonies free and independent states. This gave rise to a warm and protracted debate; for as yet there were many who continued to cling to the hope of a peaceful adjustment. In the course of the discussion, it appearing that several colonies were not yet fully ripe for separation, it was deemed prudent to defer the final decision of the question for a short time; and, in the meanwhile, a committee was appointed to prepare a declaration of independence, consisting of John Adams, doctor Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and Mr. Jefferson. The last named gentleman was requested to draw up the paper, which he did, and it was reported to the house, after receiving a few alterations from doctor Franklin and Mr. Adams.