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Biography of Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States

Successor to George Washington and John Adams, Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States of America. One of the best-known milestones of his presidency is the Spanish Louisiana Purchase, a transaction that doubled the size of the United States territory. Jefferson promoted the independence of the states over a centralized federal government.

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Wilson Peale, 1791. Thomas Jefferson by Charles Wilson Peale, 1791.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 in the Virginia colony. He was the son of Colonel Peter Jefferson, a farmer and civil servant, and Jane Randolph. Between the ages of 9 and 14 he was educated by a clergyman named William Douglas, with whom he learned Greek, Latin, and French. He attended the school of the Rev. James Maury and later enrolled in the College of William and Mary, a public university founded in 1693. Jefferson studied law under George Wythe, the first American law professor, and was admitted to the bar in 1767. .

The beginnings of Thomas Jefferson’s political activity

Thomas Jefferson began his political activity in the late 1760s. He served in the House of Burgesses, the Virginia state legislature, from 1769 to 1774. Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton on January 1, 1772. They had two daughters: Martha Patsy and Mary Polly. At the end of the 20th century, it was confirmed, through DNA analysis, that Thomas Jefferson had six children with Sally Hemings, a mulatto woman (and half-sister of his wife Martha) who had been his slave since his stay in France as United States ambassador. .

As a representative for Virginia, Thomas Jefferson was the main drafter of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America ( The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America ), which was proclaimed on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia. This happened during the second Continental Congress, which brought together the 13 North American colonies at war with Great Britain that declared themselves sovereign and independent states.

Later, Thomas Jefferson was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. During part of the Revolutionary War, Jefferson served as Governor of Virginia. At the end of the war he was sent to France with the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In 1790, President George Washington appointed Jefferson as the first United States Secretary of State. Jefferson clashed with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton over many state policies. One was the way in which the now independent nation was to relate to France and Great Britain. Hamilton also supported the need for a strong federal government, contrary to Jefferson’s position focused on the liberties of the states. Thomas Jefferson eventually resigned as Washington favored Hamilton’s position. Later, between 1797 and 1801, Jefferson would be Vice President of the United States, under the presidency of John Adams. They had met in the presidential election, when Adams won; however, due to the electoral system in force at that time,

The Revolution of 1800

Thomas Jefferson ran for President of the United States for the Democratic-Republican Party in 1800, again facing John Adams, who represented the Federalist Party. Aaron Burr was with him as the vice-presidential candidate. Jefferson developed a highly controversial electoral campaign against John Adams. Jefferson and Burr won the election over the other candidates but tied for president. The electoral controversy had to be resolved by the outgoing House of Representatives, and after 35 votes Jefferson obtained one more vote than Burr, consecrating himself as the third president of the United States. Thomas Jefferson took office on February 17, 1801.

These were the first elections after the death of George Washington in 1799; Thomas Jefferson called this electoral process the Revolution of 1800, since it was the first time that the presidency of the United States changed political parties. The elections marked a peaceful transition of power and a two-party system that have continued to this day.

Jefferson’s first presidential term

A relevant fact for the legal structure of the United States was the precedent set by the court case Marbury vs. Madison , occurring during the early days of Thomas Jefferson’s tenure, which established the power of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of federal laws.

The Barbary Wars

A significant event of Jefferson’s first presidential term was the war that involved the United States with the Barbary coast states between 1801 and 1805, which marked the first foreign intervention in the history of the United States. The Barbary coast was the name given at that time to the Mediterranean coastal area of ​​the North African countries that today are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The main activity of these countries was piracy.

The United States paid a tribute to pirates so they wouldn’t attack American ships. However, when the pirates asked for more money, Jefferson refused, prompting Tripoli to declare war in 1801. The conflict ended in June 1805 with an agreement favorable to the United States. Although the United States military intervention was successful, the activity of pirates and the payment of tributes to other Barbary States continued, and the situation did not have a definitive resolution until 1815 with the second Barbary war.

Thomas Jefferson biography First Barbary War. American ship off Tripoli in 1904.

The Louisiana Purchase

Another significant event of Thomas Jefferson’s first term was the 1803 purchase of the Spanish Louisiana Territory from Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. In addition to Louisiana, this vast territory included what are now the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, as well as parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Texas, among other territories. Many historians consider this to be the most important act of his administration, as the purchase of this territory doubled the size of the United States at the time.

Thomas Jefferson’s second term

Jefferson was reelected to the presidency of the United States in 1804, along with George Clinton as vice president. Jefferson ran against Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, easily winning a second term. The Federalists were split, with Jefferson receiving 162 electoral votes while Pinckney got just 14.

During Thomas Jefferson’s second term, the United States Congress passed a law ending the country’s involvement in the foreign slave trade. This act, which took effect on January 1, 1808, ended the importation of slaves from Africa, although the trading of slaves within the United States continued.

By the end of Jefferson’s second term, France and Great Britain were at war, and American trading ships were frequently attacked. When the British boarded the American frigate Chesapeake they forced three soldiers to work on their ship and killed one for treason. Jefferson signed the Embargo Act of 1807 in retaliation for this act. This law prevented the United States from exporting and importing goods abroad. Jefferson thought that this would hurt trade in France and Great Britain but it ended up having the opposite effect and was detrimental to the United States.

Jefferson retired to his home in Virginia at the end of his second term and spent much of his time designing the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth (50th) anniversary of the United States’ declaration of independence.


Joyce Oldham Appleby. Thomas Jefferson . Times Books, 2003.

Joseph J. Ellis. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson . Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Jefferson’s quotes and family letters. Thomas Jefferson’s Family. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, 2021.