Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson : biography

April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826

Historical reputation

Jefferson has often been seen as a major American icon of liberty, democracy and republicanism.Merrill D. Peterson, The Jefferson image in the American Mind (1960) pp 5, 67–69, 189–208, 340. Some have hailed him as one of the most articulate spokesmen of the American Revolution, and as a renaissance man who promoted science and scholarship. Abraham Lincoln called Jefferson "the most distinguished politician in our history." Recent historians, including his biographer Dumas Malone of the mid-twentieth century and the historian Ron Chernow, have seen a more mixed picture. They have noted his views on race and slavery, his controversial tenure as governor of Virginia, his disloyalty under Washington and Adams, his sometimes extreme political writings, his advocacy of nullification and secession, his personal spending excesses, and his troubled second term as president. Other historians, such as Richard Drinnon and David Stannard, have criticized other aspects of his presidency, such as the harsh treatment of Native Americans under Jefferson.Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building. U. of Oklahoma Press, 1997. pp. 78–89. .Stannard, David. American Holocaust. Oxford University Press, 1992. p. 120. .

Jefferson’s legacy as a champion of Enlightenment ideals has been challenged by various modern historians, who find his continued ownership of hundreds of slaves at Monticello to be in conflict with his stated views on freedom and the equality of men. Cogliano says, "No single issue has contributed as much to the decline of Jefferson’s reputation since World War II as the slavery question." Clarence E. Walker said that Jefferson rationalized being a slave owner and defended slavery since he believed the inferiority of Africans were "fixed in nature" and they needed supervision. The historian Gordon S. Wood has noted that during the progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th century, when scholars saw revolutionary America as a struggle between "haves" and "have nots", Jefferson’s reputation reached new heights as his presidency was seen as the final defeat of the moneyed classes. Wood argues that this predominated until the 1940s, when the progressive era view fell from favor, and Jefferson’s reputation declined from its prior heights. As modern historians have seen slavery as a greater evil than the mercantilism that Jefferson’s adversaries championed, Wood argues, Jefferson’s legacy in recent decades has come under further scrutiny and criticism. However though Jefferson has been criticized for owning slaves, scholarly surveys continue to rate him among the top ten presidents.Murry, Blessing, 1993 p.7*

Memorials and honors

Jefferson has been memorialized in many ways, including buildings, sculptures, and currency. The Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth. The interior of the memorial includes a statue of Jefferson and engravings of passages from his writings. Most prominent are the words inscribed around the monument near the roof: "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." During the New Deal era of the 1930s, Democrats honored Jefferson and Andrew Jackson as their party’s founding fathers and continued inspiration. He was portrayed by them as the spokesman for democracy and the common man.Claude Bowers, Jefferson and Hamilton the Struggle for Democracy in America (1927) President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the effort to gain approvals for his monument in Washington.

Thomas Jefferson has been honored on U.S. postage since the first Jefferson postage stamp was released in 1856. Jefferson was the second president to be featured on U.S. Postage.Scott Stamp Catalog, Index of Commemorative Stamps His portrait appears on the U.S. $2 bill, nickel, and the $100 Series EE Savings Bond, and a Presidential Dollar which released into circulation on August 16, 2007.