Thomas Jefferson is known for a good many things, to include being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence that is the foundation of the United States. He was also the Secretary of State under George Washington, Vice President under John Adams, and he became a man pivotal to our current understanding of the American way. He was deeply interested in science, religion, culture, invention, philosophy and knew five different languages.
On February 17, 1801, he would be elected as the third president of the United States. Polls have regularly indicated that he was well revered, and has gone down in the history books as one of the best. In 2015, Brookings’ poll put him at the 5th highest ranking American president of all time, Abraham Lincoln coming in first. The Siena College Research Institute has him anywhere between the 2nd best to the 5th, depending on what year the poll was taken (all of which were between 1980 and 2010). Needless to say, he has been well revered for his work while in office.
The run for the presidency was not a pretty one. The country was divided between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists, and vicious smear campaigns were launched in support of both candidates. Jefferson was running against John Adams, and there was a major fear among Republicans that Adams and the Federalists were actually monarchists. Some would regard this election as one of the more controversial and spiteful elections in U.S. history. Some even called it the “Revolution of 1800.”
Still, he won, and he would oversee a number of significant conflicts and political discourses in his tenure at the White House. For example, the First Barbary war broke out in 1801, when both Sweden and the U.S. allied against North African “Barbary States,” meaning Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and the Sultanate of Morocco. Pirates had been taking American ships ransom and paying off these states when they received ransom — at least, that’s what they planned. Jefferson would not pay the ransom; Sweden had already been at war with Tripoli for around a year at that point, and so their alliance against them was natural. This was significant, as it was the first international war fought by the U.S.
He also oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was pivotal in relations with the Native Americans at the time — he was of the unpopular belief that they were not, in fact, inferior at all. However, with that said, it would be disingenuous to leave out the fact that he believed that their best option ought to be assimilation into American society. Though he owned slaves himself, he treated them as employees (though this now remains a point of controversy) and wound up banning the international importation of slaves.
He would be re-elected for another term, and left the presidency in 1809. Still, he continued to contribute in other ways, including founding the University of Virginia. He would even one day repair his friendship with John Adams, despite their vicious divide in the early days; they would begin to correspond regularly as peers and friends, and died within hours of one another.
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.