"Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country." -Thomas Jefferson
In the thick of party conflict in 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a private
letter, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form
of tyranny over the mind of man."
This powerful advocate of liberty was born in 1743 in Albermarle County,
Virginia, inheriting from his father (a planter and surveyor) some 5,000 acres of
land. He inherited from his mother, a Randolph, high social standing. He studied at the
College of William and Mary, then read law. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles
Skelton, a widow, and took her to live in his partly constructed mountaintop
Freckled and sandy-haired, rather tall and awkward, Jefferson was eloquent as a
correspondent, but he was no public speaker. In the Virginia House of Burgesses
and the Continental Congress, he contributed his pen rather than his voice to the
patriot cause. As the "silent member" of the Congress, Jefferson, at age 33, drafted
the Declaration of Independence. In years following he labored to make its words
a reality in Virginia. Most notably, he wrote a bill establishing religious
freedom, enacted in 1786.
The Formation of Two Parties:
Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France in 1785. His sympathy
for the French Revolution led him into conflict with Alexander Hamilton when
Jefferson was Secretary of State in President Washington's Cabinet. He resigned
Sharp political conflict developed, and two separate parties, the Federalists and
the Democratic-Republicans, began to form. Jefferson gradually assumed leadership
of the Republicans, who sympathized with the revolutionary cause in France.
Attacking Federalist policies, he opposed a strong centralized Government and
championed the rights of states.
As a reluctant candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson came within three votes
of election. Through a flaw in the Constitution, he became Vice President,
although an opponent of President Adams. In 1800 the defect caused a more serious
problem. Republican electors, attempting to name both a President and a Vice
President from their own party, cast a tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron Burr.
The House of Representatives settled the tie. Hamilton, disliking both Jefferson
and Burr, nevertheless urged Jefferson's election.
When Jefferson assumed the Presidency, the crisis in France had passed. He
slashed Army and Navy expenditures, cut the budget, eliminated the tax on whiskey
so unpopular in the West, yet reduced the national debt by a third. He also sent
a naval squadron to fight the Barbary pirates, who were harassing American
commerce in the Mediterranean. Further, although the Constitution made no
provision for the acquisition of new land, Jefferson suppressed his qualms over
constitutionality when he had the opportunity to acquire the Louisiana Territory
from Napoleon in 1803.
During Jefferson's second term, he was increasingly preoccupied with keeping the
Nation from involvement in the Napoleonic wars, though both England and France
interfered with the neutral rights of American merchantmen. Jefferson's attempted
solution, an embargo upon American shipping, worked badly and was unpopular.
Jefferson retired to Monticello to ponder such projects as his grand designs for
the University of Virginia. A French nobleman observed that he had placed his
house and his mind "on an elevated situation, from which he might contemplate the