U.S. Presidents 101: Thomas Jefferson

February 1, 2017

Thomas Jefferson bio

Thomas Jefferson

My daughter helping Thomas Jefferson sign the Declaration of Independence


This post is part of our U.S. Presidents 101 series. If you’ve been following along with us, you’ll remember one of my goals this year is to learn all the U.S. Presidents in order and some fun facts about each one. If you missed the post about our first president, George Washington, you can find it here. Our second president, John Adams, is here. Today’s focus is on Thomas Jefferson.

The facts: Thomas Jefferson is best known as the author of the Declaration of Independence. But, did you know that he was also our nation’s first Secretary of State, personally asked to serve by George Washington. The first time he ran for president, he lost by 3 electoral votes to John Adams, our nation’s second president. Back then, the runner up was automatically made the vice president. I can’t imagine how a Trump-Clinton ticket would go over today. At any rate, four years later he beat Adams but tied with presidential candidate Aaron Burr which meant that it was up to Congress to decide who would be president. Most of Congress was of a different political party than Jefferson, but after six long days of deliberations, Jefferson finally won their support, making Aaron Burr the VP. Three years later, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted, ensuring that runners-up would no longer be subjected to being their opponent’s vice president, much to their relief, I’m sure.  Moving along, some of Jefferson’s accomplishments as president were purchasing the Louisiana Territory and supporting the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Despite the legend he is, there’s some controversy surrounding him. He was said to be adamantly against slavery, yet owned over 200 slaves at his Monticello estate. There’s also genetic evidence  suggesting that after his wife passed away he fathered up to six children with one of his slaves.

He died just hours before his rival John Adams on July 4th, 1826 at his home in Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson

Political party: Democratic Republican (I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means.)

Why he’s cool: Ok, I’m telling you, these men were the Founding Fathers of our country for a reason. The more I learn about them, the more I’m in awe of them. Jefferson is downright intriguing. Apparently, he was a completely awkward, gangly man but was so intellectually brilliant that he succeeded at anything he tried to accomplish. He wasn’t much of a speaker, was pretty quiet, but was an incredible writer. He was a man of habit. He never wanted “the sun to catch him in bed,” so he woke up every morning before sunrise, soaked his feet in cold water (which, at the end of his life, he attributed to his lifetime of good health) while he made a fire, and then until noon he would do nothing but write letters. He wrote over 20,000 letters in his lifetime. As a member of the Continental Congress, he was appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. He was only 33-years-old! He also served as the second Governor of Virginia, succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister of France, and founded the University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson's house

Thomas Jefferson’s home: Monticello

Fun fact: My husband and I spent the first years of our marriage in Richmond, Virginia. For those of you unfamiliar with Virginia’s geography, that’s about an hour from Charlottesville, Virginia where Jefferson’s Monticello estate sits on top of the beautiful rolling hills of Albermarle County. It’s breathtaking. Walking on Monticello’s land is like walking on hallowed ground. I felt the same way with Mt. Vernon (George Washington’s estate). I’m grateful for foundations that protect these sacred places in American history.  I highly recommend visiting–especially in the fall during apple picking season. There’s the most beautiful apple orchard the next hill over from Monticello, called Carter Mountain Orchard. Go! You will have the best time, enjoy breathtaking scenery and love every minute of it. Also, eat one of their apple cider donuts for me, please!

autumn Monticello

Monticello in all its autumn glory.

Part of the gardens at Monticello. Check out that view!


The vegetable gardens of Monticello. It’s a good thing we were poor students when we visited here, I would have spent a small fortune just on the gift shops at these places. Did you know you can buy heirloom seeds that descend back to the days of Jefferson?

Sources: Monticello’s foundation is remarkable. Visit their site here. Are you into gardening? Did you know you can also purchase heirloom seed packets grown right at Monticello? How cool is that? Go here to learn more.

Up Next: James Madison

Author: Brittany

Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.

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