Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Apr. 13: Thomas Jefferson, American president and polymath


Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was an American statesman, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and U.S. Founding Father who was the new nation's first secretary of state (under George Washington), second vice president (under John Adams) and third president. His resume was such that President John F. Kennedy in 1962 told a group of Nobel Prize winners at a White House dinner: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet." His reputation has been tarnished by the keeping of over 600 slaves on his plantation, Monticello, but at least he took one step toward eventual emancipation by signing the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves in 1807. Nevertheless, he fathered at least six children with Sally Hemings, a mixed-race enslaved woman who was his late wife's half-sister. He was a man of many accomplishments: the principal author of the Declaration of Independence; president of the American Philosophical Society; knew several languages; founded the University of Virginia; made the Louisiana Purchase (doubling the nation's size) and sending out Lewis and Clark's "Corps of Discovery" to obtain scientific, geographic, and ethnological knowledge. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of U.S. independence, and the same day as his long-time friend (and sometime political rival) John Adams. Historians generally rank Thomas Jefferson as one of the greatest presidents in American history.


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