From: "Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and
Brown Counties, Illinois 1892", by Biographical Review Publishing
Company, Chicago, Illinois; pages 20-25, a reprinted by Stevens
Publishing Co., Astoria, Ill., 1971, is sold by the Schuyler County
Historical Society, Rushville, Illinois.
THOMAS JEFFERSON, the third President of the United States, 1801-'9,
was born April 2, 1743, the eldest child of his parents, Peter and Jane
(Randolph) Jefferson, near Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia,
upon the slopes of the Blue Ridge. When he was fourteen years of age,
his father died, leaving a widow and eight children. She was a
beautiful and accomplished lady, a good letter-writer, with a fund of
humor, and an admirable housekeeper. His parents belonged to the Church
of England, and are said to be of Welch origin. But little is known of
Thomas was naturally of a serious turn of mind, apt to learn,
and a favorite at school, his choice studies being mathematics and the
classics. At the age of seven-teen he entered William and Mary College,
in an advanced class, and lived in rather an expensive style,
consequently being much caressed by gay society. That he was not
ruined, is proof of his stamina of character.
But during his second year he discarded society, his horses and even
his favorite violin, and devoted thenceforward fifteen hours a day to
hard study, becoming extraordinarily proficient in Latin and Greek
On leaving college, before he was twenty-one, he commenced the
study of law, and pursued it diligently until he was well qualified for
practice, upon which he entered in 1767. By this time he was also
versed in French, Spanish, Italian and Anglo-Saxon, and in the
criticism of the fine arts. Being very polite and polished in his
manners, he won the friendship of all whom he met. Though able with his
pen, he was not fluent in public speech.
In 1769 he was chosen a member of the Virginia Legislature, and
was the largest slave-holding member of that body. He introduced a bill
empowering slave-holders to manumit their slaves, but it was rejected
by an overwhelming vote.
In 1770 Mr. Jefferson met with a great loss; his house at
Shadwell was burned, and his valuable library of 2,000 volumes was
consumed. But he was wealthy enough to replace the most of it, as from
his 5,000 acres tilled by slaves and his practice at the bar his income
amounted to about $5,000 a year.
In 1772 he married Mrs. Martha Skelton, a beautiful, wealthy and
accomplished young widow, who owned 40,000 acres of land and 130
slaves; yet he labored assiduously for the abolition of slavery. For
his new home he selected a majestic rise of land upon his large estate
at Shadwell, called Monticello, whereon he erected a mansion of modest
yet elegant architecture. Here he lived in luxury, indulging his taste
in magnificent, high-blooded horses.
At this period the British Government gradually became more
insolent and oppressive toward the American colonies, and Mr. Jefferson
was ever one of the most foremost to resist its encroachments. From
time to time he drew up resolutions of remonstrance, which were finally
adopted, thus proving his ability as a statesman and as a leader. By
the year 1774 he became quite busy, both with voice and pen, in
defending the right of the colonies to defend themselves. His pamphlet
entitled: "A Summary View of the Rights of British America,"
attracted much attention in England. The following year he, in company
with George Washington, served as an executive committee in measures to
defend by arms the State of Virginia. As a Member of the Congress, he
was not a speech-maker, yet in conversation and upon committees he was
so frank and decisive that he always made a favorable impression. But
as late as the autumn of 1775 he remained in hopes of reconciliation
with the parent country.
At length, however, the hour arrived for draughting the
"Declaration of Independence," and this responsible task was devolved
upon Jefferson. Franklin, and Adams suggested a few verbal
corrections before it was submitted to Congress, which was June 28,
1776, only six days before it was adopted. During the three days of the
fiery ordeal of criticism through which it passed in Congress, Mr.
Jefferson opened not his lips. John Adams was the main champion of the
Declaration on the floor of Congress. The signing of this document was
one of the most solemn and momentous occasions ever attended to by man.
Prayer and silence reigned throughout the hall, and each signer
realized that if American independence was not finally sustained by
arms he was doomed to the scaffold.
After the colonies became independent States, Jefferson resigned
for a time his seat in Congress in order to aid in organizing the
government of Virginia, of which State he was chosen Governor in 1779,
when he was thirty-six years of age. At this time the British had
possession of Georgia and were invading South Carolina, and at one time
a British officer, Tarleton, sent a secret expedition to Monticello to
capture the Governor. Five minutes after Mr. Jefferson escaped with his
family, his mansion was in possession of the enemy ! The British troops
also destroyed his valuable plantation on the James River. "Had
they carried off the slaves," said Jefferson, with characteristic
magnanimity, " to give them freedom, they would have done right."
The year 1781 was a gloomy one for the Virginia Governor. While
confined to his secluded home in the forest by a sick and dying wife, a
party arose against him throughout the State, severely criticizing his
course as Governor. Being very sensitive to reproach, this touched him
to the quick, and the heap of troubles then surrounding him nearly
crushed him. He resolved, in despair, to retire from public life for
the rest of his days. For weeks Mr. Jefferson sat lovingly, but with a
crushed heart, at the bedside of his sick wife, during which time
unfeeling letters were sent to him, accusing him of weakness and
unfaithfulness to duty. All this, after he had lost so much property
and at the same time done so much for his country! After her death he
actually fainted away, and remained so long insensible that it was
feared he never would recover! Several weeks passed before he could
fully recover his equilibrium. He was never married a second time.
In the spring of 1782 the people of England compelled their king
to make to the Americans overtures of peace, and in November following,
Mr. Jefferson was reappointed by Congress, unanimously and without a
single adverse remark, minister plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty.
In March, 1784, Mr. Jefferson was appointed on a committee to
draught a plan for the government of the Northwestern Territory. His
slavery -prohibition clause in that plan was stricken out by the
proslavery majority of the committee; but amid all the controversies
and wrangles of politicians, he made it a rule never to contradict
anybody or engage in any discussion as a debater.
In company with Mr. Adams and Dr. Franklin, Mr. Jefferson was
appointed in May, 1784, to act as minister plenipotentiary in the
negotiation of treaties of commerce with foreign nations. Accordingly,
he went to Paris and satisfactorily accomplished his mission. The
suavity and high bearing of his manner made all the French his friends;
and even Mrs. Adams at one time wrote to her sister that he was "the
chosen of the earth." But all the honors that he received, both at home
and abroad, seemed to make no change in the simplicity of his
republican tastes. On his return to America, he found two parties
respecting the foreign commercial policy, Mr. Adams sympathizing with
that in favor of England and himself favoring France.
On the inauguration of General Washington as President, Mr.
Jefferson was chosen by him for the office of Secretary of State. At
this time the rising storm of the French Revolution became visible, and
Washington watched it with great anxiety. His cabinet was divided in
their views of Constitutional government as well as regarding the
issues in France. General Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, was the
leader of the so-called Federal party, while. Mr. Jefferson was the
leader of the Republican party. At the same time there was a strong
monarchical party in this country, with which Mr. Adams sympathized.
Some important financial measures, which were proposed by Hamilton and
finally adopted by the cabinet and approved by Washington, were opposed
by Mr. Jefferson ; and his enemies then began to reproach him with
holding office under an administration whose views he opposed. The
President poured oil on the troubled waters. On his re-election to the
Presidency he desired Mr. Jefferson to remain in the cabinet, but the
latter sent in his resignation at two different times, probably because
he was dissatisfied with some of the measures of the Government. His
final one was not received until January I, 1794, when General
Washington parted from him with great regret.
Jefferson then retired to his quiet home at Monticello, to enjoy
a good rest, not even reading the newspapers lest the political gossip
should disquiet him. On the President's again calling him back to the
office of Secretary of State, he replied that no circumstances would
ever again tempt him to engage in anything public! But, while all
Europe was ablaze with war, and France in the throes of a bloody
revolution and the principal theater of the conflict, a new
Presidential election in this country came on. John Adams was the
Federal candidate and Mr. Jefferson became the Republican candidate.
The result of the election was the promotion of the latter to the
Vice-Presidency, while the former was chosen President... In this
contest Mr. Jefferson really did not desire to have either office, he
was "so weary" of party strife. He loved the retirement of home more
than any other place on the earth.
But for four long years his Vice-Presidency passed joylessly
away, while the partisan strife between Federalist and Republican was
ever growing hotter. The former party split and the result of the
fourth general election was the elevation of Mr. Jefferson to the
Presidency ! with Aaron Burr as Vice-President. These men being at the
head of a growing party, their election was hailed everywhere with joy.
On the other hand, many of the Federalists turned pale, as they
believed what a portion of the pulpit and the press had been preaching
that Jefferson was a "scoffing atheist," a "Jacobin," the " incarnation
of all evil," "breathing threatening and slaughter!"
Mr. Jefferson's inaugural address contained nothing but the
noblest sentiments, expressed in fine language, and his personal
behavior afterward exhibited the extreme of American, democratic
simplicity. His disgust of European court etiquette grew upon him with
age. He believed that General Washington was somewhat distrustful of
the ultimate success of a popular Government, and that, imbued with a
little admiration of the forms of a monarchical Government, he had
instituted levees, birthdays, pompous meetings with Congress, etc.
Jefferson was always polite, even to slaves everywhere he met them, and
carried in his countenance the indications of an accommodating
The political principles of the Jeffersonian party now swept the
country, and Mr. Jefferson himself swayed an influence which was never
exceeded even by Washington. Under his administration, in 1803, the
Louisiana purchase was made, for $15,000,000, the "Louisiana Territory"
purchased comprising all the land west of the Mississippi to the
The year 1804 witnessed another severe loss in his family. His
highly accomplished and most beloved daughter Maria sickened and died,
causing as great grief in the stricken parent as it was possible for
him to survive with any degree of sanity.
The same year he was re-elected to the Presidency, with George
Clinton as Vice-President. During his second term our relations with
England became more complicated, and on June 22, 1807, near Hampton
Roads, the United States frigate Chesapeake was fired upon by the
British man-of-war Leopard, and was made to surrender. Three men were
killed and ten wounded. Jefferson demanded reparation. England grew
insolent. It became evident that war was determined upon by the latter
power. More than 1,200 Americans were forced into the British service
upon the high seas. Before any satisfactory solution was reached, Mr.
Jefferson's Presidential term closed. Amid all these public excitements
he thought constantly of the welfare of his family, and longed for the
time when he could return home to remain. There, at Monticello, his
subsequent life was very similar to that of Washington at Mt. Vernon.
His hospitality toward his numerous friends, indulgence of his slaves,
and misfortunes to his property, etc., finally involved him in debt.
For years his home resembled a fashionable watering-place. During the
summer, thirty -seven house servants were required! It was presided
over by his daughter, Mrs. Randolph.
Mr. Jefferson did much for the establishment of the University
at Charlottesville, making it unsectarian, in keeping with the spirit
of American institutions, but poverty and the feebleness of old age
prevented him from doing what he would. He even went so far as to
petition the Legislature for permission to dispose of some of his
possessions by lottery, in order to raise the necessary funds for home
expenses. It was granted ; but before the plan was carried out, Mr.
Jefferson died, July 4, 1826, at 12:50 P. M.