Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia in 1743. His father was a wealthy planter and his mother cane from a rich family. He was educated as a lawyer and entered politics as the Revolutionary war with Great Britain was about to start. He was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence. This was a wise move to empower one person to write such a document. Rather than write it by committee, one man put it into words, not only American demands, but created a framework for the future. This framework has set the standard for the USA, that they are still aspiring to.
Jefferson had been part of the Virginian legislature, but entered the Government as war approached. There was his friend, sometime adversary and wise-man from Massachusetts, John Adams. There was Madison, Hamilton, the soldier Washington and many others. The main powerbase was Virginia, but also New England. A land blessed with natural richness, had also been blessed by the talent that was to give birth to a dream and a new country. A colony created out of new opportunity and the push factors of those avoiding European religious conflict. These were upstanding Christian men, schooled in the new Enlightenment philosophy. They saw reason, logic and freedom from superstition as a vital counterpoint to religious faith. They were educated and wise and saw the need for self-Government and freedom as essential to life. The triple code of health, wealth and the pursuit of happiness a legend to adorn the standard of the Revolution.
This succinct, clear and future busting call to philosophical arms, transcends politics and war. It is a clarion call from a prophet to light the fire that rightly led to the freedom of the people. The statement that all men are created equal, was so far ahead of its time, that the USA is still struggling to make that a reality in these present times. Needless to say, the language needs clarification as it does not include women and there was a confusion and another war over the role of the slave. This was from a man of 33 years.
He became Governor of Virginia with little success either politically or militarily. He went on to be a diplomat in Paris. He was witness to the sumptuous culture and richness of Paris, that he much enjoyed. But he also witnessed the start of the Revolution in France that was to end up less definite in its result and far bloodier than the American Revolution.
He returned to politics in the USA and was involved in the argument between Federalists, the pro-British Hamilton and the Republicans. He fell out with Adams over the principles of the future of the country. He narrowly lost an election to him before winning to become the third President. They established the two-party system of Democratic and Republican. His main achievement was to secure the acquisition of Louisiana from the French. A victory that almost fell into his lap, but he eagerly accepted. He looked west and sent out Lewis and Clark to explore. The country’s main role was to remain independent in the fight between France and Britain, Congress was unable to prevent a War in 1812 with a Britain aggressive in its opposition to Napoleon and sensing victory. A trade war and embargo had led to conflict with American shipping and the USA was sucked in unprepared, but was ultimately victorious.
Jefferson lived on until 1826. He died as he lived at Monticello, his plantation home. He will be remembered for his eloquent philosophy that flew the flag for his nascent country. But his character, although equivocal, will be the outstanding memory. Both a philosopher and a politician, he knew how to be both simultaneously. He had a well disguised desire for power and control. He was respected for his urbane manners and style, compared with the irascible, but self-aware Adams. He was owner of a plantation that had 200 slaves. He generally treated them well, but highlighted the dissonance between his public statements about freedom and his private practice. He probably was wise enough to realise that the time to end slavery had not yet come, and although it needed to happen, the building blocks hewn by him in the Declaration of Independence, had to yet to be built upon.
He had a keen interest in Architecture, gardening, science and European culture. The man’s legacy was a huge presence and some precise principles that are still a touchstone for America.
So, America, look to your better angels. Jefferson was clearly one of the best.
Conway-Laird (2017)

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