Thomas Jefferson: born April 13, 1743

Let me describe to you a man, not yet forty, tall and with a mild and pleasing countenance…An American, who without ever having quitted his own country, is at once a musician, skilled in drawing; a geometrician, an astronomer, a natural philosopher, legislator, and statesmen…Sometimes natural philosophy, at others politicks or the arts were the topicks of our conversation, for no object had escaped Mr. Jefferson; and it seemed as if from his youth he had placed his mind, as he has done his house, on an elevated situation, from which he might contemplate the universe.

Description of a visit to Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in 1782 from Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 by the Marquis de Chastellux.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia. A member of the Continental Congress, he requested that only three of his many accomplishments be noted on his tomb at Monticello: Author of the Declaration of American Independence; Author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom; And Father of the University of Virginia.

A man of many conflicts.

While he lived a simple lifestyle, greeting guests in homespun clothes and slippers, it is reported that his wine bill upon leaving the presidency was $10,000. He certainly knew how to live well. He believed in a “wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another,” but that otherwise left them free to regulate their own affairs. In an effort to minimize the influence of the central government, he reduced the number of government employees, slashed army enrollments, and cut the national debt.

Jefferson had to deal with the political war waged between his Republican Party and the Federalists. There were many occasions where his personal philosophy contradicted his professional actions. The battles were focused on the nation’s judiciary branch. The landmark ruling in Marbury v. Madison, which established the independent power of the Supreme Court, was handed down during Jefferson’s presidency.

Of his relationship with the slave Sally Hemmings, many still debate today.  Although he denied the affair, current DNA evidence supports sexual relationships between the two and was indeed fathered two of her children.  While he fought for the prohibition of slavery in new American territories, he never freed his own slaves. Some historians argue that he felt it was for their own safety and they were better off at Monticello. However, one still cannot overlook the sacred words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” in light of his ambivalence toward slavery.

Time has passed and two hundred thirty years later I wonder…Are these truths self-evident? It’s rhetorical, in my view yes. However, the more important question is when? When will we as humanity act, that all men are truly created equal?

Photos and other material from the Library of Congress. Check it out, it’s your library.