Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson Drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776 became the defining event in Thomas Jefferson's life. Despite Jefferson's desire to return to Virginia to help write that state's constitution, the Continental Congress appointed him to the five-person committee for drafting a declaration of independence. That committee subsequently assigned him the task of producing a draft document for its consideration. Drawing on documents, such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights, state and local calls for independence, the writings of Roman Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero and John Locke, and his own draft of a Virginia constitution, Jefferson wrote a stunning statement of the colonists' right to rebel against the British government and establish their own based on the premise that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that the reason governments are instituted among men is to secure these rights.

Through the many revisions made by Jefferson, the committee, and then by Congress, Jefferson retained his prominent role in writing the defining document of the American Revolution and, indeed, of the United States. Jefferson was critical of changes to the document, particularly the removal of a long paragraph that attributed responsibility of the slave trade to British King George III. Jefferson was justly proud of his role in writing the Declaration of Independence and skillfully defended his authorship of this hallowed document.

After being elected president in 1800, Jefferson sucessfully fought the Islamic terrorists of that time: The Barbary pirates. Unlike his predecessor, John Adams, he refused to pay tribute to the terrorists. "Millions for defense; not one cent for tribute" was his motto. He even received a commendation from the Pope for his actions.

Jefferson has been accused of being pro-slavery and that he hypocritically included the phrase "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence. But in his 1774 treatise A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Jefferson advocated the enfranchisement of slaves, and vigorously objected to the Crown's desire to profit from the slave trade and their thwarting of the Colonies' attempts to stop importation of slaves: "The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies, where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa; yet our repeated attempts to effect this by prohibitions, and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his majesty's negative: Thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few African corsairs to the lasting interests of the American states, and to the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this infamous practice."

Once the United States was free from the shackles of the Crown, Jefferson acted. "Between 1777 and 1779, Mr. Jefferson was employed, conjointly with George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton, on a comission for revising the laws of Virginia. ... to him belongs the honour of having first proposed the important laws in the Virginia code, forbidding the importation of slaves..." --Lives of the Signers to The Declaration of Independence by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1837

Thomas Jefferson's platform

First inaugural address (Excerpts)

First inaugural address (Complete)

Quotes regarding the Constitution