Thomas Jefferson - Author of the Declaration of Independence
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By John Mummery
When our Founding Fathers were faced with complying to Great Britain's demands or breaking away, it was a big decision. They knew that any resistance on their part would be big enough to categorize them as traitors with the penalty of death for treason. They gathered together and with courage made the decision that their beliefs, "Liberty and Justice for all" and the American people came first.
His Influence as a Founding Father:
Thomas Jefferson was asked to put pen to paper and draft the principles for which they stood. He wrote the Declaration of Independence without notes, writing and rewriting until the page was crowded with edits. His goal was to create a document that his countrymen would understand, one that would inspire them to take on the great risk of separating from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson's courage came from an unshakable belief that he would be successful with this task and that the resulting Revolutionary War would be successful as well. His bravery was marked by an optimism that other Founding Fathers lacked. Even George Washington doubted that the new republic would be a success. Thomas Jefferson's unwavering conviction that a government based on "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" would endure and thrive demonstrates a courage that fearless men the world over still fight to prove true.
Initially, Thomas Jefferson wanted John Adams to draft the Declaration of Independence but Adams persuaded everyone that Jefferson was the man for this heavy assignment. Some reasons for this that we can safely assume are that Thomas Jefferson had spent a life time ardently pursued his love of learning. His gift with words combined with a passionate belief in the concept of liberty would result in the document that would not only lead to the Revolutionary War but would also shape the ideals that the nation would hold dear for centuries to come. Ideals that we hold to this day.
"I believe in the dreams of the future more than the history of the past," Jefferson once wrote to his lifelong friend, John Adams. They had a difficult friendship. Brothers from the start of the Revolutionary War, their differences after the war in their political parties caused a rift between them in the late 1790s, one that was not healed until 1812 when they established a close correspondence that they would continue until their deaths in 1826. It has been said that if John Adams wrote the words of the American Revolution, Jefferson wrote the music. Both died within four hours of each other on the fifth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams last words were: "Independence forever" and "Thomas Jefferson survives." Just before his death, Jefferson called his friends and family to his bedside and said:
"I have done for my country and for all mankind all that I could do, and I now resign my soul without fear to my God, - my daughter to my country."
His Life and Greatest Accomplishments:
So where did this man come from? With such a legendary life we'd expect that he was born predestined for it. Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia in 1743. His father, Peter Jefferson, managed a plantation until his death in 1757 when Thomas was just 12 years old. From an early age, Thomas was blessed with a lively curiosity. At the time of his father's death, he had already begun to learn Latin, Greek and French. Thomas Jefferson though was not without faults. In both his political and personal life, his actions have sometimes been viewed as contradictory to his core beliefs. Although he valued liberty and equality above all else, he not only owned slaves but is also thought to have fathered children by one of them, Sally Hemings. The fact that he owned slaves while advocating for the end of slavery is particularly disturbing because Jefferson sincerely believed that when a man lived a moral life, that morality influenced and improved the lives of others. It seems this was an internal conflict that he lived with his whole life.
Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1800 after a tie with Aaron Burr sent the election to the House of Representatives. He had run the campaign on the new Democratic-Republican ticket, a party formed to counteract the growing power of the Federalist Party. He was at odds with Federalist Alexander Hamilton's view of liberty. Hamilton believed that individual liberty must be preserved through social and economic policies enacted by the central government while Jefferson felt that too much government endangered individual liberty. His beliefs are still found in our government today. The Democratic party is an off shoot of his party and although the modern Republican Party would not be created until 1854 and is not a direct off shoot, its name was chosen in homage to Thomas Jefferson's beliefs. We now owe him another debt for continuing to fight the fight of a lesser government.
As president, Thomas Jefferson's stand-out achievements reflected his courage to imagine America as a great country that would play a positive role on the world stage. Just as his writing in the Declaration of Independence inspired a belief that a nation built on liberty and equality would succeed, Jefferson's drive to expand the nation's borders bolstered a belief in a bright future for America. Jefferson oversaw the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, doubling the size of the country. In 1804, he directed the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the West. Thomas Jefferson is regarded as the Father of the American West even though he himself never traveled more than a few miles west of his beloved Monticello home.
Other Thomas Jefferson achievements include the formation of the military academy known today as West Point, the ability of the Supreme Court to declare laws passed by Congress unconstitutional and the banning of slave importation from Africa. He was the first president to demonstrate that the transfer of power between parties could be conducted without chaos or revolution. Yet it is his vision of a country where liberty and equality prevail that is his greatest legacy.
Thomas Jefferson alongside George Washignton, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt is one of four men sculpted into Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota.
What inspires me when I look back on Thomas Jefferson's life is that the path he chose to follow was not necessarily the easy one, but the one that he knew was paved with beliefs and morals he held close to his heart. He believed in liberty for all equally and freedom to love his God. He believed the citizens came first and the government is there to protect the people. When we think of our freedom's it is important to remember that this Fearless Man, Thomas Jefferson, was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence that detailed why they were breaking away from Great Britain. At that time this was considered treason and punishable by death. Thomas Jefferson stood his ground, and we are better for it.
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