Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)authored the Declaration of Independence and served as the first secretary of state (1789–1794), the second vice president (1797–1801), and the third president of the United States (1801–1809). Born in Virginia, Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary before studying law under George Wythe. In 1768, Jefferson began his long political life when he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1774 his Summary View of the Rights of British America made Jefferson known as a proponent of independence throughout the colonies. He was soon appointed as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In June 1776, Jefferson completed the first draft of a declaration of independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776.

In 1779, Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia. When the state was invaded by the British in 1780, Jefferson fled and was subject to criticisms of cowardice and misconduct. In 1781 he wrote Notes on the State of Virginia, which addressed issues of religion, government, education, and slavery. After his wife’s death in 1782, Jefferson returned to Congress, and three years later he replaced Benjamin Franklin as minister to France. He remained in France for five years but returned to the United States to serve as George Washington’s secretary of state. In that position, Jefferson clashed with Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury, and founded the Democratic-Republican (or Republican Party) that opposed Washington and Hamilton’s Federalists. Jefferson resigned in frustration in 1793.

Jefferson entered the presidential race in 1796 and received the second most votes to become vice president to John Adams. A disagreement over the Alien and Sedition Acts resulted in a bitter feud and the Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions. In 1800, Jefferson and Adams faced off again for the presidency. Each ran a bitter, personal campaign against the other. The election resulted in a tie between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr. The decision over the presidency was put to Congress, and after thirty-six ballots Jefferson was finally declared the winner.

During his two terms, Jefferson worked to reverse Federalist policies and appointments. In 1803, Jefferson’s refusal to confirm Federalist judges appointed by John Adams just before leaving office resulted in the Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison. One of Jefferson’s most important accomplishments as president was the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the nation, and the Lewis and Clark expedition, which Jefferson sent to explore the newly acquired territory. His embargo of 1807, however, damaged the American economy and the people’s trust in the government.

After leaving office, Jefferson returned to his home at Monticello and in retirement founded the University of Virginia and reconciled with his former political rival John Adams.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to edit your profile and indicate this, giving you free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Related Site Content