Many recognize Thomas Jefferson as a man of various accomplishments during his service to the United States of America. Many of these accomplishments were achieved during his presidency. From acquiring much of present-day United States territory in the Lousisiana Purchase and supporting the expedition of it (monticello.org/thomas-jefferson-brief-biography) to authoring the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was known as one of the greastest presidents of the country. He was also known for his ever-changing relationship with John Adams (historyhit.com/the-friendship-and-rivalry-of-thomas-jefferson-and-john-adams) and his ideals about freedom of all kinds. His beliefs changed the ways of the United States, shaping it into the country it is today.
Jefferson’s first term of presidency occurred at the same time of conflict between the Barbary pirates and American traders. (faculty.montgomerycollege.edu/presidency) The traders had been illegally bribing the pirates to protect them while they traveled oceans considered their property. Jefferson ended the bribery by starting the First Barbary War. In this war, the US military restored control of the oceans back to the government.
Another highly acknowledged event during Jefferson’s first term of presidency was the Lousisiana Purchase. (faculty.montgomerycollege.edu/presidency) Jefferson had always been interested in expanding United States territory. To do this, he made a transaction with Napoleon Bonaparte and purchased land now mostly located in present-day central United States. The purchase not only expanded the United States, but also ended conflict over the Mississippi River due to navigation rights.
Now that the United States land had been greatly extended, Jefferson wanted it explored to gain information on the Natives, languages, geography, and for scientific research. He also had hopes of creating new trade routes along that land as well as finding a link between the Columbia and Missouri rivers. The link would give better access to ports and eastern cities. The expedition was journeyed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. (faculty.montgomerycollege.edu/presidency)
During his second term of presidency, Jefferson faced tougher challenges and decisions that would determine the course of the nation. One of these challenges was the rising tension between the United States with Britian and France. In order to keep the nations from colliding into war, Jefferson made his best attempt at remaining neutral and refusing to express neither support nor opposition. Toward the end of his second term, he encountered a raging controversy that ended up being responsible for his resignation. It was known as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, and it involved British captains escaping and turning themselves in to join an American ship, the USS Chesapeake, while the British and French were fighting each other to block supplies coming in from the United States. A battle ensued when the ship Leopard opened fire and caused the USS Chesapeake to surrender after it lost some of its soldiers to injury or death. Americans urged Jefferson to take action against Britain as a result of its disrespect toward the United States, with one of the options being to wage war. Instead, Jefferson imposed the Embargo Act, which cut off all trading and shipping relations with both Britain and France. However, the embargo backfired since it was too difficult to enforce and detrimental to industry. (faculty.montgomerycollege.edu/presidency)
Following his succesful eight-year presidency, Jefferson retired to his Virginia home, where he continued to nourish his passions for learning and public service. He spent much of his time conducting various experiments and even taking up invention. He prided himself in founding the University of Virginia, for which he designed the campus and curriculum and selected the faculty. It proved to be a satisfying finish to Jefferson’s long, dedicated work to improve the lives of United States citizens. (millercenter.org/president/jefferson/life-after-the-presidency) However, Jefferson suffered immense debt all throughout his retirement as a result of economic problems in the country. (monticello.org/thomas-jefferson-brief-biography) As a plantation owner, he was no stranger to debt, but it was worsened by decreasing prices of land and agriculture. The War or 1812 was also partially responsible for his financial distress due to the following economic recession.
While in retirement, Jefferson kept in contact with all his friends, including former rival John Adams. Their relationship had its ups and downs, mainly due to their opposing opinions on a variety of matters. For example, Adams believed in a strong central government, while Jefferson supported states’ rights over government power. (https://www.cnn.comjohn-adams-thomas-jefferson-frenemies) Despite their contrasting beliefs, they were what brought them together in the end. On July 4, 1826, John Adams lay on his deathbed and said his final words, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Unfortunately, he was mistaken: Jefferson had died hours earlier. (https://theculturetrip.com/the-story-behind-john-adams-and-thomas-jeffersons-awkward-fallout)
Thomas Jefferson was an iconic figure in the history of the United States. His presidency inspired the young United States to have stronger beliefs about their government. He had firm beliefs in freedom of all kinds, from religion to the structure of the government itself. Jefferson declared this freedom in the Declaration of Independence with the statement of the peoples’ unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With these rights, people gained new ideas about their freedom as citizens. Jefferson also changed executive power by prioritizing self-preservation over government control. To him, the importance of rights rose above any other concern. However, his belief in rights has been turned against him numerous times for a hypocritical statement that all men are created equal. He infamously owned hundreds of slaves–many of whom were never freed–despite his dismal attitudes toward its existence.(millercenter.org/president/jefferson/impact-and-legacy)
This contradiction undermined his success as a leader. He proclaimed freedom and rights to the American people, but was unwilling to give them to over six hundred slaves who worked on his Virginia plantation. He did free a few slaves, but they were a result of his favoritism toward the Hemings family, not to mention he was having an affair with Sally Hemings, with whom he had at least six children. (monticello.org/thomas-jefferson-brief-biography) All backlash aside, Jefferson is difficult to ignore in the politics and society of the modern United States. His ideals and principles are embedded in our documents and present-day leaders. He was an advocate for governmental, religous, and cultural freedom and diversity. As our modern ideas of politics have changed, so has Jefferson’s reputation. (Appleby 134) He differed from other presidents in the fact that he had the idea for the future of the country, rather than others who merely had character or elegance, but no idea. (Lerner 121) Jefferson is the model for the human experience, “…the thirst for knowledge, the capacity to create, the love of family and friends, the applause of the world, the marshaling of power, the bending of others to one’s own vision.” (Meacham 499) Had he been only a diplomat or philosopher or any of the roles in which he displayed his versatility, he would not have set this example to the United States and the world. Jefferson believed in the American experiment, and he inspired others to do the same.
As the nation was still growing and figuring out an identity for itself, he gave people new ideas about their freedoms and natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These beliefs of his have certainly earned him a place among Washington, Kennedy, Lincoln, and all the greatest presidential leaders of the United States. (Lerner 120-121) However, Jefferson was accused of disregarding traditions held by the Federalists and being a generally flawed character, somehow balancing fairness and hypocrisy. (Appleby 133) Much of his career did not come easy, even after his presidency. (millercenter.org/president/jefferson/impact-and-legacy) The conflicts he faced and the way he conquered them shaped history and how the United States is governed today. He spent his entire life dedicating himself to public service to his beloved nation, even after his professional career with the foundation of the University of Virginia and bringing new inventions into existence and improving upon current ones. (itotd.com/the-inventions-of-thomas-jefferson) There is no doubt that Thomas Jefferson was and will forever continue to be one of the greatest political figures of all time.
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