Thomas Jefferson


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President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

At the age of twenty-one Thomas Jefferson took possession of his inheritance—five thousand acres, including Monticello, to which would be added when he married Martha Skelton a few years later, another eleven thousand acres and one hundred thirty five slaves. He had not squandered his early years in pleasures and wasted time as some of his wealthy peers had, nor would he ever do so. Thomas mastered Latin, Greek, French, history, science, and the classics from a Scottish Presbyterian school master. At William and Mary College he added math, metaphysics, philosophy, and the writings of John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. He followed those courses by reading law with one of the foremost lawyers in Colonial America—George Wythe.

Jefferson practiced law, lived with his mother at her home, and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses beginning in 1769, at the age of twenty-six. What few realized at the time, the American colonies were on the brink of protest, rebellion, and dissolution as colonies of Great Britain. A unique and brilliant combination of men would oppose a series of financial schemes by Parliament and military occupation by red-coated regiments, resulting in the creation of a Republic, the likes of which had never been seen before in history. One of her greatest intellectual architects would be the lean red-headed Virginia polymath, Thomas Jefferson.

The courtly Virginian gave no memorable speeches, but his quiet arguments and written opinions revealed to all his profound understanding of law. His commitment to the cause of independence so inspired his colleagues at the Continental Congress that Jefferson was given the task of writing the draft of the Declaration of Independence. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates and Governor 1779-80. He published what many consider the most important book written in America before 1800, Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he expressed his ideas on denominational church establishments, checks and balances, constitutional law, slavery and other vital ideas of the times.

Jefferson’s trust of the common farmer rather than the elites and professional politicians ran counter to some of his colleague’s views of who should hold power. He stated that “every government degenerates when trusted to rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.” The independent yeoman and the agrarian life were his ideal brokers for limited government and states’ rights. Jefferson drafted the resolves that became the Northwest Ordinance and succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France. Upon the creation of the United States under the Constitution, Jefferson served as Secretary of State in George Washington’s cabinet.

Though an exemplar as a public servant, Jefferson loved nothing more than being at home in Monticello, farming, reading, and entertaining guests, some of whom stayed for weeks. His mind ranged over many interests and disciplines—gardening, architecture, exploration, wine, history, and government. He filled his home with innovative artifacts that he found in France, and delighted in his wife and children, though his beloved Martha died at the age of thirty-three and only two of his six children lived to adulthood. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia and designed its first buildings. He amassed the largest private library in the United States and sold more than six thousand volumes to Congress after the British burned the Library of Congress in 1814. He began his book collection all over again saying, “I cannot live without books.”

During the Adams Presidency Jefferson penned the Kentucky Resolves, expressing the doctrine of nullification on Congressional legislation deemed unconstitutional by the states. After the contentious and disputed election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson moved into the White House to serve two full terms. Perhaps his greatest achievement was overseeing the Louisiana Purchase and its subsequent exploration by Lewis and Clark, which doubled the size of the United States land claim. He contended diplomatically with Britain and France, and sent American warships against the Barbary Pirates. Jefferson’s protégés, Virginians and close friends James Madison and James Monroe followed him in the presidency.

In one of the mysteries of providence, Thomas Jefferson died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, in 1826. He penned his own epitaph in his will, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia, because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.” 

A medium to full body smoke with a complex yet elegant essence.