Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, meaning this month he celebrates his 276th birthday. Jefferson was a Founding Father of the United States and the country’s third president. Before he was the president, Jefferson served as the second vice president under John Adams from 1791 to 1801. He is responsible for many achievements in the history of the United States, such as the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and writing the Declaration of Independence.
With the American Revolutionary War underway in 1775, he was selected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, and at age 33, he was asked to draft the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776, and explains why the 13 colonies wanted to be free from rule under the British, and promoted the importance of individual rights and freedoms. After resigning from the Continental Congress, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and thought carefully about the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. He authored this in the late 1770s, and Virginia lawmakers eventually passed it in 1786. This was one of the most significant achievements in Jefferson’s career. The achievement was the forerunner to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects the people’s right to worship as they choose.
In 1785, Thomas Jefferson took over as U.S. minister to France over Benjamin Franklin. His duties in Europe meant he could not attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. However, he was informed of the proceedings to draft a new constitution, and later advocated for including a bill of rights, as well as presidential term limits. Thomas Jefferson is also responsible for ratifying the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress proposed this Amendment after Jefferson ran against John Adams in the presidential election of 1800. Jefferson defeated Adams, but he also tied with Aaron Burr, a fellow Democratic-Republican. The House of Representatives broke the tie and voted Jefferson into office. In order to avoid a repeat of this situation, the Twelfth Amendment was created, which provides the procedure for electing the president and vice president.
Shortly after Jefferson was inaugurated, he directed that plans be set in motion to establish the United States Military Academy, or USMA, at West Point in New York. On July 4, 1802, the USMA formally commenced as an institution for scientific and military learning. The USMA went on to become one of America’s leading institutions.
One of the most important achievements of Jefferson’s first term as the president of the United States was purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. This purchase effectively doubled the size of the United States. Jefferson then instructed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the uncharted land, plus the area beyond, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Today, this expedition is known as the Corps of Discovery, and it provided valuable information about the geography, American Indian tribes, as well as animal and plant life of the western half of the United States.
After he decided not to run for a third term in office, Jefferson helped found the University of Virginia, which held its first classes in 1825. He was involved in designing the buildings and curriculum, and ensured that the school would not have any religious affiliation or religious requirements for its students, unlike other American colleges at the time.
Thomas Jefferson passed away on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He still remains an American icon today; his face appears on the U.S. nickel and is carved into stone at Mount Rushmore. On April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth, the Jefferson Memorial, near the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated to Jefferson.