Jefferson, Thomas

Jefferson, Thomas
   Thomas Jefferson was an American founding father, author of the Declaration of Independence, minister to Paris, secretary of state, and third president of the United States (1801–1809). Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, to wealthy landowners, Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph. He attended the College of William and Mary where he also participated in the secret Flat Hat Club. He studied law and philosophy and headed the American Philosophical Society.
   As president, Jefferson accomplished many things that benefited the United States. He authorized the Lewis and Clarke expedition to the Pacific and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in which Washington purchased in 1803 from Napoleonic France 529,911,680 acres of land for $15 million, doubling the size of the country and thereby expanding, in his own words, “the empire of liberty.” The purchase was in part facilitated by the conflict in Europe. Spain’s transfer of territory in North America to France closed the Mississippi and prompted a call for war from Congress. Jefferson’s decision to send James Monroe to both France and Spain to negotiate a peaceful settlement was more astute than he could have guessed, as Napoleon’s decision to make war against England encouraged him to part with overseas territory of no use to him in the impending struggle. Monroe came home with much more than he had sought and, due to circumstance, at a bargain price. He also responded to the slave revolt in Haiti by sending rebellious American slaves to Haiti, thereby in effect aiding the rebellion there while forestalling it at home. He also engaged in a prolonged but worthwhile struggle with the Barbary States, 1801–1807, over their commerce raiding in the Mediterranean. By neglecting the maintenance of the navy constructed by his predecessor, John Adams, he made the American effort more difficult, but he nonetheless thought it imperative that a trading nation reach out to chastise the insolence of piracy.
   Yet in 1807, Jefferson also unnecessarily harmed relations with Britain by transforming his insistence of rights of neutral states into a policy of embargo against both Britain and France, now properly at war. Anglo-American relations were equally damaged by the British policy of seizing American crews for service in the Royal Navy, but the embargo damaged the maritime economy of the New England states, benefited the Continental System of Napoleon, and set American affairs on a course that led ultimately to the Anglo-American War of 1812.
   See also <>; <>.
    Bernstein, R. B. Thomas Jefferson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003;
    Ellis, Joseph J. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Knopf, 1997;
    Onuf, Peter S. Jefferson ’ s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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