Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Thomas Jefferson, America's third president, wrote the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.
America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, was born in rural Virginia in 1743. He rose to political prominence in Virginia by dint of his extensive plantation holdings. Appointed to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Jefferson would become the major author of the Declaration of Independence. He would later serve as Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Vice-President and President of the United States. He died at his beloved Monticello on July 4, 1826, the same day as his friend and rival John Adams.
Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell (now known as Albemarle County) Virginia, on April 13, 1743. He was the third of 10 children of Peter Jefferson, a surveyor, landowner, and magistrate, and Jane Randolph Jefferson, a member of the most prominent family of Virginia. When Jefferson turned 21, he inherited 2,750 acres of land from the estate of his father, who had died in 1757. In 1769, he designed and began building his home, Monticello, atop a mountain on part of his father’s original landholdings. On January 1, 1772, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, with whom he had six children. The following year, he inherited 11,000 acres and 135 slaves from his father-in-law but managed to incur enormous debts, which he struggled to repay for the rest of his life. Because Jefferson was deeply affected by the death of his wife in 1782, he never remarried, despite a brief affair with an English miniature painter, Maria Cosway, in 1786.
Jefferson was given a classical education through private tutoring and attended the College of William and Mary, where he studied law. He graduated in 1762 and began a successful law practice following his admission to the Bar in 1767; however, in 1774, his practice was overtaken by the onrush of the American Revolution, and he never resumed the profession.
Jefferson’s political career started in 1769 when the freeholders of Albemarle elected him to the House of Burgesses. He remained there until 1775 when he was chosen as one of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia. After the Revolutionary War began, he was asked to draft a “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms,” which was found to be too strong. During the spring of 1776, however, widespread desire for independence grew much stronger. Therefore, in June 1776, Jefferson and a committee of fellow delegates were asked to prepare a draft of a declaration of independence. Congress began debating his draft on July 2 and adopted it on July 4. In September 1776, Jefferson resigned from Congress and returned to the Virginia House of Delegates to become a prominent lawmaker. He was elected governor of Virginia for one year in 1779. When his term ended, Jefferson’s governance was highly criticized and he returned to Monticello, determined to give up his public life forever. Back at Monticello, he began writing his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), which contained information on Virginia and on his own beliefs and ideals. Then in November 1783, Jefferson was elected to Congress and was so productive that in May 1784, Congress appointed him to a commission with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to negotiate treaties of commerce with European countries. This commission met in Paris where Jefferson remained until the start of the French Revolution in 1789. Jefferson was probably never happier than during his five-year stay in France. Upon returning to the U.S., Jefferson successively served as secretary of state, vice president, and in 1800, was narrowly elected president over John Adams and served two terms.
The Declaration of Independence is Jefferson’s major literary claim to fame. It presented the position of the American revolutionaries that was supported by strong legal argument and affirmed belief in the natural rights of all people. Jefferson’s most notable early contribution to the cause of the Patriots during the American Revolution was his pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), which was published by his friends without his permission. In this pamphlet, he emphasized natural rights and denied parliamentary authority over the colonies. In 1801, when Jefferson was still vice president under John Adams, he wrote his famous Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1812), which is still in use today to aid deliberations in the Senate. His Notes on the State of Virginia—a response to a series of questions regarding Virginia that the secretary of French legation had asked—was the only book he ever published. It was seen as a work of natural and civil history and as a guide to Jefferson’s mind, as well as to his country.
When Jefferson assumed a seat in the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia in June 1775, it became his only connection to Pennsylvania. After he left Congress to go back to Virginia, he did not return north to Pennsylvania for any extended periods of time.
Jefferson died at Monticello on July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and was buried beside his wife. The inscription Jefferson wrote for his grave marker reads: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, & Father of the University of Virginia.”
A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Williamsburg, VA: Clementina Rind, 1774.
Notes on the State of Virginia. Paris: Privately printed, 1785.
A Manual of Parliamentary Practice For Use in the Senate of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Published by Joseph Milligan, 1812.
The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, in Volume 1 of Memoirs, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville: F. Carr, 1829.
The Declaration of Independence. 1776.
Jefferson, Thomas. Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. Ed. Thomas Carson and Mary Bonk. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1999. 508-510. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 Sep. 2011.
Garranty, John, and Mark Carnes, eds. “Thomas Jefferson,” American National Biography. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.