America has seen its share of heroes come and go. Thomas Jefferson was one of the few historical Americans who needs no introduction. Even the most abbreviated knowledge of American history, at home or abroad, includes the author of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is best remembered as a great president and as the author of the Declaration of Independence. He also won lasting fame as a diplomat, a political thinker, and a founder of the Democratic Party.
Jefferson’s interests and talents covered an amazing range. He became one of the leading American architects of his time and designed the Virginia Capitol, the University of Virginia, and his own home, Monticello. He greatly appreciated art and music and tried to encourage their advancement in the United States. He arranged for the famous French sculptor Jean Houdon to come to America to make a statue of George Washington. Jefferson also posed for Houdon and for the famous American portrait painter Gilbert Stuart. Jefferson also enjoyed playing the violin in chamber music concerts.
In addition, Jefferson served as president of the American Philosophical Society, an organization that encouraged a wide range of scientific and intellectual research. Jefferson invented a decoding device, a lap desk, and an improved type of moldboard plow. His collection of more than 6,400 books became a major part of the Library of Congress. Jefferson revised Virginia’s laws and founded its state university. He developed the decimal system of coinage that allows Americans to keep accounts in dollars and cents. He compiled a Manual of Parliamentary Practice and prepared written vocabularies of Indian languages. Jefferson also cultivated one of the finest gardens in America.
Jefferson did not consider himself a professional politician. Instead, he regarded himself as a public-spirited citizen and a broad-minded, practical thinker. He preferred his family, his books, and his farms to public life. But he spent most of his career in public office and made his greatest contribution to his country in the field of politics.
The tall, red-haired Virginian believed that “those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God.” His ideal society was a nation of landowning farmers living under as little government as possible. The term Jeffersonian democracy refers to such an ideal and was based on Jefferson’s faith in self-government. He trusted the majority of people to govern themselves and wanted to keep the government simple and free of waste. Jefferson loved liberty in every form, and he worked for freedom of speech, press, religion, and other civil liberties. Jefferson strongly supported the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States.
Jefferson molded the American spirit and mind. Every later generation has turned to him for inspiration. Through about 40 years of public service, he remained faithful to his vow of “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Without the contributions Thomas Jefferson made to the United States, still in its youth, America would never have become what it is today – a nation for the people, by the people.