Thomas Jefferson Day celebrates the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, who was the third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and one of the most influential Founding Fathers for his promotion of the ideals of Republicanism in the United States. Major events during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
As a political philosopher, Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and knew many intellectual leaders in Britain and France. He idealized the independent yeoman farmer as exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and favoured states’ rights and a strictly limited federal government. Jefferson also supported the separation of church and state and was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
A polymath, Jefferson achieved distinction as, among other things, a horticulturist, statesman, architect, archaeologist, author, inventor and founder of the University of Virginia. When President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House—with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
In his early life Jefferson practiced law and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1774, he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was intended as instructions for the Virginia delegates to a national congress. The pamphlet was a powerful argument of American terms for a settlement with Britain. It helped speed the way to independence, and marked Jefferson as one of the most thoughtful patriot spokesmen.
As the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and a significant contributor to American political and civil culture, the Continental Congress delegated the task of writing the Declaration to a Committee of Five which unanimously solicited Jefferson to write the first draft, which underwent some alteration, but remained largely Jefferson’s work.