Thomas Jefferson “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of men” Thomas Jefferson, 1800.
Biography • Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 in Albermarle County, Virginia. • Jefferson was the eldest son of Peter and Jane Jefferson • Thomas had seven other siblings (6 sisters [one of which was mentally handicapped] and 1 brother) • Peter Jefferson was a prominent planter and surveyor who owned a 5,000 acre plantation called Shadwell • Peter died in August of 1757 (he was 49), Thomas was only 14. Leaving Jefferson with a substantial inheritance including 2,500 acres and nearly 200 slaves. Jefferson was not able to officially take control of his inheritance until he was21. • Thomas Jefferson was privately educated by a series of clergymen
For five years from the age of 9-14 Jefferson boarded with Rev. William Douglas of Dover Church, learning Latin, Greek, and French. Thomas stayed with Rev. Douglas for 8 sometimes 9 months of the year, for an annual cost of £16. • After his father’s death, Jefferson came under the tutelage of an Anglican minister by the name of James Maury, who according to Jefferson, was a “correct classical scholar”. Jefferson spent the next two years with Rev. Maury in his Fredericksville Parish. • From 1760-1762 Thomas Jefferson attended William & Mary College. Jefferson began his time at William & Mary studying mathematics and natural philosophy with Professor William Small. • In 1762 Jefferson continued his education by studying law with George Wythe, until 1767 when he was able to practice law before the General Court of Virginia, (retires from practicing law in 1774).
In 1768 Jefferson is elected to his first political post in the Virginia House of Burgesses • 1772: Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton, a prominent member of Virginia society, as a consequence Jefferson in 1774, inherits 11,000 acres and 135 slaves from his new father-in-law. • Martha Jefferson dies giving birth to her sixth child in 1782. Thomas Jefferson never remarries, but is suspected of fathering another six children with his slave Sally Hemings. (In 1998, Dr. Eugene Foster a geneticist, confirmed that the Hemings children were the offspring of Thomas Jefferson. Also in 2000 the Thomas Jefferson Foundation after pouring over the evidence also came to the same conclusion. • From 1775-1776, at the age of 32, Jefferson is elected to the Continental Congress, where he is known for his writing, rather than his oratory skill. During the American Revolution Jefferson draft’s the Declaration of Independence, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (enacted 1786), and began the Notes on the State of Virginia (published 1787).
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson is elected Governor of Virginia. In 1780 the British, under the command of General Charles Cornwallis, occupy his Virginia estate of Monticello. Jefferson, after barley escaping the British net, serves as Virginia’s Governor until 1781. • After the war, Jefferson became a serving member of the 2nd Continental Congress: 1783-1785. • Jefferson again entered public service, this time in France, first as Trade Commissioner (1785) and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor, filling the vacant post of American Foreign Minister to France until 1789. • After a brief reprieve from public life Jefferson in 1790, accepted the post of Secretary of State in the Washington Administration, serving the President until 1793, when he resigned due to irreconcilable differences concerning how the United States of America should be governed (States Rights vs. Federalism)
By 1797 a Jeffersonian Party had been established to combat the rising tide of Federalism, led by his political rivals Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. During the 1797 Presidential election Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party finished second to Adams and his Federalist allies by 3 electoral votes. Jefferson defeated, accepted the post of Vice President until 1801. • Jefferson in the next Presidential election defeated the incumbent (John Adams) marking the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the United States. • Jefferson’s Presidency (1801-1809): Most notable achievements for Jefferson during his first term was the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 (6 million acres for 15 million dollars, $2.50 an acre). More than doubled the size of the United States. Largest peaceful acquisition of land in the history of any modern nation. Employed the Lewis & Clark expedition to explore the new territory in the hopes of finding the Northwest Passage, valuable minerals and identifying indigenous population’s, possibly even locating the lost tribe of Israel.
After serving his second term as President, Thomas Jefferson retired from public service for the remainder of his life. • After retiring (Monticello: Charlottesville, Virginia), Jefferson threw himself into plantation management and amassing one of the greatest libraries in America (part of which he sold to the Library of Congress to replace the books burned when the British sacked Washington during the War of 1812. Literary donation comprised 6,700 volumes) • 1817-1825 worked on successfully establishing the University of Virginia • Thomas Jefferson Died on July 4, 1826, at the age of 83. Jefferson died in poverty, owing various creditors nearly $100,000. The majority of this debt was incurred purchasing books, building Monticello (25 yr. undertaking), and establishing the University of Virginia. • Crowning Achievements: Epitaph: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.
Education was considered by Jefferson as the foundation for any well ordered Republic. Jefferson’s academic system is the antithesis of prior educational thought. For example John Locke, in Of the Conduct of the Understanding, encapsulates the norms view of who should be educated. Locke states: “Those methinks, who by the industry and parts of their ancestors have been set free from a constant drudgery to their backs and bellies, should bestow some of their spare time on their heads and open their minds by some trials and essays in all sorts of reasoning.” Jefferson called this group who were set free by the privileges of wealth and birth the “Artificial Aristocracy” (Kings, Priests, and Nobles i.e. Feudalism) Instead Jefferson believed in what he called the natural equality of the human race. In other words, education was not just for the wealthy segment of society it was for every element of the Republic. Consequently, Republican leadership should be founded on virtue and talents not birth and financial standing. Jefferson called this group the “Natural Aristocracy.” Jefferson’s Educational Philosophy
Even though Jefferson concluded that an elite group, or the cream of the Natural Aristocracy, were destined to become leaders, he also thought that the education of the masses was crucial to preventing tyranny and preserving democracy. • Jefferson in a letter to William C. Jarvis wrote “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.” • Therefore, Jefferson concluded, that the entire polity should be educated. Jefferson proposed doing this by creating a three tiered system of education because Knowledge was power. “No other sure foundation (Education), can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness; Jefferson wrote George Wythe, a common school was the keystone of the arch of our government.
Diagram outlines the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge: outlines the selection and education of the Natural Aristocracy.
Primary Schools (Hundreds: Local): In 1779, Jefferson proposed a system of public education to the legislators of Virginia. The plan called for 3 years of instruction in reading, writing, simple arithmetic, and indirectly history since the pupils were to be taught to read using books of Greek, Latin, English, and American History (History was a guide to the perfectible future through the errors of the blemished past). School would be made available to all “free” boys and girls regardless of class or financial standing. The Primary School system would be financially supported by the public through taxes on property and exports. • Grammar School: (Academy: District): Jefferson at this next level was more selective, choosing only the most intellectually promising students to attend; supported at public expense if their parents were to poor to pay. In each of the first two years at this second level there was to be a further winnowing of genius and talents among the young scholars. Eventually, after 4 more years, the remaining students would emerge prepared for the rigors of a college education. (Curriculum: Higher part of classical languages including English, geography, and numerical arithmetic).
University: (Initially William & Mary College, Virginia University after 1825): At this level only the most accomplished scholars would be admitted. Again, scholarships would be provided for those who could not afford to attend. Sacred duty of the University was to produce “future guardians of the rights and liberties of their country.” Academic study according to Jefferson would not be restricted by government whether ecclesiastical or civil.
Not only did Jefferson’s educational system provided instruction for the masses in their natural rights, interests, and duties as citizens; but it provided a workable process of sifting though the population, regardless of class, for leaders or what Jefferson termed the Natural Aristocracy. • Finally, what segments of the population, if any, were left out of Jefferson’s educational system: • Africans: “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Jefferson wrote further, stating, that African’s smelled, did not possess the ability to reason, and refused to look at any evidence to the contrary because it was “beneath the dignity of reason.” • However, Jefferson did believe that Africans should be educated. In his Bill Pertaining to Slaves (1784) Jefferson stated that slaves should be suitably educated and then forcibly shipped to either Liberia or Santo Domingo, for he could not envision both races living side by side.
2. Native Americans: Jefferson viewed them as “savages” and “barbarians” consequently these people could not be included in a universal education system. Jefferson believed that missionaries should be sent into the tribes to civilize them, instructing them in Western morals, and conduct, including a “civilized” governing system modeled along Republican ideals.
Bibliography: • Jefferson, Thomas, A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge (1778). • Levy’s Leonard, Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side, pp. 8-15. • James H. Hutson, Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists: A Controversy Rejoined, The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 56, No.4 (Oct., 1999), 775-790. • Post M. David, Jeffersonian Revisions of Locke: Education, Property Rights, and Liberty, Journal of History of Ideas, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Jan.-Mar., 1986), 147-157. • http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents • Jefferson, Thomas, A Bill for Establishing A System of Public Education 24 October 1817. • Cohen, William, Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Slavery, The Journal of American History, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Dec., 1969), 503-526.
Bibliography: 8. Cooke, J.W., Jefferson and Liberty, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec., 1973), 563-576. • Jefferson, Thomas, A Bill for Amending the Constitution of the College of William and Mary, and Substantiating More Certain Revenues for Its Support (1779). • Colbourn H. Trevor, Thomas Jefferson’s Use of the Past, The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 15, No. 1 (Jan., 1958), 56-70. • Brodie M. Fawn, Thomas Jefferson an Intimate History, W.W. Norton & Co., 1974.