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Information is the currency of democracy - Thomas Jefferson

Thomas JeffersonWhen Thomas Jefferson died at the age of 83 he asked that his tombstone list those things that he had given the people, not those that the people had given to him (thus his gravestone does not note that he spent eight years as President of the United States).

His tombstone reads:

Here Was Buried Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
Of The Statute of Virginia For Religion Freedom
And Father of the University of Virginia
Born April 2, 1743
Died July 4, 1826

In addition to the above accomplishments, before becoming a member of the Continental Congress and drafting the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia plantation owner served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutentant and member of the House of Burgesses - which was established in Jamestown, Virginia as the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America.

After leaving Congress in 1776, Jefferson served as governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781 and then took up public office again in 1784 in France - first as trade commissioner and then as minister (following in the footsteps of Bejamin Franklin). In the brief time between these two public service roles he wrote his only full length book to be published in his lifetime, Notes on the State of Virginia, which is considered by many to be the most important book published in America before 1800. The book, which Jefferson initially published anonymously in France in 1785, combines data he collected about Virginia's natural resources and economy, with a vigorous argument about the nature of the good society, which he felt Virginia epitomized. He expresses his beliefs about the separation of church and state, constitutional government, checks and balances, and individual liberty. More disturbingly for modern day readers he also writes extensively about slavery and the problems of miscegenation (the mixing of races) and his firm belief that whites and blacks could not live together in a free society.

In 1790 he became Secretary of State under George Washington, and in 1801 became President in the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the USA. The most notable action of his first term was the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. During his second term he is perhaps best remembered for attempting to keep the USA neutral in the war between Britain and France.

After leaving the presidency in 1809 he returned to the family's plantation in Monticello. During this final period of his life he sold his collection of books to the government to found the Library of Congress and, at the age of seventy-six, founded the University of Virginia, serving as its first rector.

He died on July 4, 1826, heavily in debt, just hours before his friend John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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This quote & biography originally ran in an issue of BookBrowse's membership magazine. Full Membership Features & Benefits.

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