In Honor of the 4th

Thomas Jefferson is one of the most intriguing figures of the American Independence era.   Here are a few interesting facts about him for us to consider this July 4.

Jefferson’s tombstone makes no mention about his service as President of the United States despite mentioning several other accolades. His epitaph reads: Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.

Smear campaigns are rooted in our election history. Thomas Jefferson was subjected to one of the worst smear campaigns when he ran for president. Federalist opponents spread rumors that he was an infidel (sound familiar?). The idea of Jefferson as an heathen was taken to extremes by some New Englanders who hid their bibles in the bottom of their wells for fear Jefferson would have them confiscated. The President of Yale College, Timothy Dwight, stated that if Jefferson were elected it would result in, “our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution; soberly dishonored; speciously polluted.” The Connecticut Courant wrote, “There is scarcely a possibility that we shall escape a Civil War. Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” 

Jefferson was religious and his religious beliefs are the subject of much controversy. He was raised Anglican, although he was an outspoken opponent of all organized religion. He believed in God and admired the teachings of Jesus, but he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. He was known to edit the bible, taking out those passages he deemed offensive.

Jefferson was a preeminent wine connoisseur. His wine cellar at Monticello was 17-1/2 feet long, 15-feet wide and 10-feet high. He was a partner with Italian immigrant Phillip Mazzei who established the first commercial vineyard in America. His personal wine bill during his two terms as president was $10, 835.90. Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to $146,524.40! No wonder he was always in debt.

It is well known that Jefferson was a slave owner and fathered several children by his slave Sally Hemmings. Despite all this, he was not a proponent of the institution. He proposed variously pieces of legislation outlawing slavery. When he represented Virginia at the 1783 Continental Congress, he proposed that slavery be outlawed in all new territories acquired by the federal government. It lost by one vote. His first draft of the Declaration of Independence had a strong rebuke against Great Britain and their endorsement of slave trade. This was dropped at the request of South Carolina and Georgia. In 1807 he signed a bill that abolished the slave trade. It’s speculated that the reason he maintained his slaves was because he acquired them through notes and mortgages and could not free them until those debts were paid, which he was unable to do. He did free several of his slaves before his death.

Thomas Jefferson, along with the man who preceded him as president, John Adams, both died July 4, 1826. Another Founding Father and the fifth president, James Monroe also died on July 4 five years later, 1831.

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