The Jeffersonian Presidents:


     Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, his father’s plantation near present day Charlottesville, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (“Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello”). Thomas Jefferson’s parents were his father Peter Jefferson, a planter and a surveyor, and his mother Jane Randolph Jefferson (Ellis). Jefferson was one of ten children. His father died when Jefferson was fourteen years old, and Jefferson inherited Shadwell, a 5,000-acre estate with about thirty slaves (Fradin 12). 

     In 1752, when Thomas Jefferson was only nine years old, he was sent to study with Reverend William Douglas to prepare for college; there he learned Latin, Greek, and French, and played the violin (Fradin 12). In 1760, when he was sixteen, Jefferson moved toWilliamsburg, Virginia, and attended the College of William and Mary. Whilet here, Jefferson studied to be a lawyer under George Wythe, the first professor of law in America, for five years (“Signers of the Declaration”), and was admitted to the bar in 1767 (Fradin 15). Jefferson “attended the [Virginia] House of Burgess as a student in 1765 when he witnessed Patrick Henry’s defiant stand against the Stamp Act” (“Signers of the Declaration”). This awakened Jefferson’s interest in politics, and he was elected to the House of Burgess, Virginia’s legislature, in 1769 (“Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello”). This was about the same time that Jefferson began building his own home on the top of a mountain near Shadwell: Monticello.

            On January 1, 1772, Jefferson married a young widow, Martha Wayles Skelton. They moved to Monticello and had six children. However, Martha Jefferson died at the age thirty-three and only two of their children survived to adulthood: Martha (known as Patsy) and Mary (known as Maria or Polly) (“Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello”). Jefferson never remarried, but was rumored to have fathered several children with a slave woman named Sally Hemings (Fradin 57). In time, Jefferson inherited more land and slaves from his father-in-law. Thomas Jefferson died at Monticello on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


     In 1775, as conditions heated up politically with Great Britain, Thomas Jefferson was picked as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress where he was chosen to be a part of the drafting committee to write the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was considered the most gifted writer on the committee and his Declaration of Independence explained the Americans’ desire to be free of British rule. With the words “We hold these truths to beself-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” the Declaration has long “been regarded as a charter of American and universal liberties” (“Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello”). The Declaration of Independence was officially adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

            In 1776, Thomas Jefferson resigned from the Second Continental Congress and became a new member of the House of Delegates of Virginia, formerly known as the House of  Burgesses. In 1779, he became governor of Virginia and served until 1881 when he retired to Monticello where Martha Jefferson died on September 6, 1782 (Fradin 53).  From 1783 to 1784, he served in the Congress of the Confederation and served on every available committee (Fradin 54).

             In1785, Thomas Jefferson followed Benjamin Franklin as the United States minister to France. Jefferson originally took his older daughter Patsy with him to France when he left, but in 1787, he had a young slave girl, fourteen-year old Sally Hemings, sail with his younger daughter to France (Fradin 56). When he returned home in 1789, he joined the Continental Congress and was selected as the very first United States Secretary of State under President George Washington. However, Jefferson and many others were critical of the strong national government the United States was becoming under the first Federalist administration. He resigned from the Cabinet in 1793 and formed theDemocrat-Republican party, which favored stronger state and local governments (“Signers of the Declaration”). Jefferson ran for president in 1796, but lost to John Adams which, uncomfortably, made him Vice President under a Federalist President. This led to many arguments which ultimately, in 1804, resulted in amending the United States’ Constitution to prevent the President and Vice President from being of differing political parties (“Signers of the Declaration”).

            Thomas Jefferson ran again for President against President John Adams in 1800 and became the third president of the United States in 1801. His presidential inauguration was the first one held in Washington, D.C., and Thomas Jefferson was the first president to live in the White House (Fradin 70). In 1803, the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France for fifteen million dollars which doubled the size of the United States. In 1804, he sent the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore this land (“ThomasJefferson”).  During his presidency, Jefferson also had to deal with the Barbary Pirates. For hundreds of years, these pirates from the North African coast had controlled the Mediterranean Sea, plundering and looting ships and capturing sailors, and holding the men and ships for ransom (“Commander in Chief”). While America had been a part of Great Britain, American ships and men had been protected by England’s “tributes”, or ransom, to the pirates. President Jefferson believed that paying the tributes only increased the pirates’ demands and refused to pay any more to the pirates. When Tripoli declared war on the United States, Jefferson asked the United States Congress for formal action, and Congress passed the “Act for Protection of Commerce and Seaman of the United States against the Tripolitan Corsairs” (“Commander in Chief”).

            Thomas Jefferson ran for re-election in 1804 and, again, defeated the Federalist presidential candidate for a second term. During Jefferson’s second term, he struggled to keep the United States neutral during Europe’s Napoleonic Wars in which both England and France harassed American merchant sailors and ships (“Signers of the Declaration”). Jefferson implemented the unpopular Embargo of 1807 which closed American ports to foreign trade and hurt the United States’ economy (“Thomas Jefferson”). The Embargo was repealed and the U.S. ultimately ended up in another war with England. Jefferson did not run for a third presidential term.

            Thomas Jefferson spent his retirement at Monticello. Jefferson sold his collection of over 6000 books to the government which later became the basis for the United States Library of Congress (“Signers of the Declaration”). In 1825, Jefferson helped found the University of Virginia, the first college with no religious requirements (Fradin 88). He died at the age of eighty-three at Monticello on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after signing the Declaration of Independence. 


     Thomas Jefferson’s legacy is still very present in America today. His head is on one side of the nickel and Monticello is on the opposite side. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota includes his sculpture along with those of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. In addition, the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., which opened on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday, includes a statue of Thomas Jefferson and some of Jefferson’s writing, including an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence (Fradin 94). There are numerous schools and universities, buildings, towns and cities, parks, and streets named for America’s third president. And every year on the 4th of July, Americans celebrate their freedom based on a document he wrote. However, these are not the most important aspects of Jefferson’s legacy.

            Thomas Jefferson is probably one of the most influential Founding Fathers. The words Jefferson wrote for the Declaration of Independence are still a part of the American government today. Because of Jefferson’s negative feelings about a strong government, America has a government based on the idea of federalism. In addition, Jefferson advocated for religious freedom for Virginians with his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777 which led in part to the clause in the first amendment (Learnodo). Jefferson also advocated for free public education when he wrote A Bill for More General Diffusion of Knowledge in 1779 which laid the groundwork for free public education (Learnodo).

            With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, Jefferson doubled the size of the United States. But that was not all he did, he sent the Corps of Discovery to explore the landscape and learn more about the plants, animals, and Native American tribes living there. Jefferson believed universities should educate more than just religious leaders and teachers, so he helped found the nation’s first non-sectarian university, the University of Virginia (Learnodo). Also Jefferson, a life-long lover of books, helped to found the U. S. Library of Congress.

            Thomas Jefferson helped shape the America we have today. However, not everything he believed in helped America. Jefferson owned slaves and bought and sold slaves. He expressed various opinions about the institution of slavery, including “racist views of blacks’ abilities,” although he realized that “their limitations might result from the degrading conditions to which they had been subjected for many years” (“Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello”). Although the majority of his slaves were sold when he died, his four surviving children with Sally Hemings were freed.

            Still, Thomas Jefferson was a Renaissance man: a man well before his time, a man with a vision of the future, a man who put the welfare of America first.

James Madison


            James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, was born on March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, near Fredericksburg, Virginia (“The Life of James Madison”). His parents were James Madison, Sr., and Nellie Conway Madison. He was the oldest of twelve children (“James Madison”). Madison attended the College of New Jersey, now called Princeton University, and was the school’s first graduate student where he studied Hebrew and political philosophy (“The Life of James Madison”). After graduation from college, Madison joined the Orange County Committee of Safety in 1774 and was appointed a colonel in the militia. (“The Life of James Madison”). He was elected to the Virginia legislature in 1776 and represented Orange County at the Virginia Constitutional Convention.

            James Madison was very involved in politics during and after the Revolutionary War. After serving in the Continental Congress and theUnited States House of Representatives, Madison became President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State in 1809 and was later elected as the fourth President of the United States, serving from 1809 to 1817. He did not marry until he was forty-three when he married the widow Dolley Payne Todd, a much younger Quaker woman with a young son, in 1794 (“James Madison”). Madison and his wife retired to his plantation, Montpelier in Virginia, in 1817 where he remained active in civic causes until his death on June 28, 1836, at the age of eighty-five (“JamesMadison”).


            James Madison, best known as  “the Father of the Constitution,” was one of the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. He was involved in American politics from an early age: he was a member of the Continental Congress in 1780, a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 where he was responsible for the “Virginia Plan”, and elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1789 (Brant). Madison became President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State in 1809. Most importantly, however, James Madison was the fourth President of the United States of America, serving from 1809 to 1817.

            James Madison believed in a strong federal government that could regulate the state legislatures, create a system for raising federal money, and develop a system of checks and balances over each of the three branches of government (“James Madison”). As “the Father of the Constitution,” James Madison presented “the Virginia Plan” at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. This plan proposed that the federal government be divided into three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial (“James Madison”). In addition, as a member of the new House of Representatives, Madison sponsored the first ten amendments to the Constitution, now known as the Bill of Rights (Brant). After his plan for a three-branched stronger federal government was adopted, Madison played a role in the ratification of the United States Constitution. As a Federalist, or supporter of the Constitution, he wrote and published a series of essays known as the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay proclaiming support for the Constitution (Brant).

            Madison served as President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809 before being elected as the fourth president of the United States. He served as president from 1809 to 1817. It was during his presidency that England again interfered with American trade, conscripting U.S. seamen and seizing U.S. goods and ships, and supported Native Americans in battles against American settlers (“James Madison”). Although the new country was not ready for war due to aging generals and the lack of military funding, U.S. forces attempted to battle the English (“James Madison”). The War of 1812 dragged through to 1814 and the burning of the White House, Capitol Building and the Library of Congress by the British before the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814 (“James Madison”). And, although there was no clear victory on either side,the United States was viewed as having “enhanced international prestige” (“Biographies”).


          James Madison is important for his lasting influence on the formation of the government of the United States of America. As one of America’s Founding Fathers, Madison was involved in American politics from the transformation of the thirteen colonies into the beginning of the formation of the new United States of America. In addition, Madison fought for America’s freedom from Britain as a member of  Virginia’s militia prior to entering politics. However, it was in politics where Madison had a lasting influence on America.

            As part of the Continental Congress in 1780 and later in 1787 as part of the Constitutional Convention, James Madison steadfastly believed in a strong federal government with three branches of government that could “check and balance” each other so no one branch of government was more powerful than the other two branches. With this idea in mind, Madison presented “the Virginia Plan” at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. With the adoption of this plan, Madison’s sponsorship of the Bill of Rights, and his strong support of the ratification of the Constitution as an author of the Federalist Papers, James Madison became known as “the Father of the Constitution.”

            Without James Madison’s input, the United States of America would not have the strong federal government comprised of three branches that America has today. In addition, despite the problems caused by the War of 1812, America, under the leadership of President James Madison, emerged with an “enhanced international image” (“Biographies”). Madison was “respected as a great thinker, communicator, and statesman” (“JamesMadison”).

James Monroe


            James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, was born on April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia (“James Monroe”). His parents were Spence Monroe and Elizabeth Jones Monroe (“James Monroe”). Monroe attended the College of William and Mary in 1774 at the age of sixteen; however, the Revolutionary War interrupted his studies (“James Monroe”). Monroe joined the Continental Army to fight against Britain in 1775, serving in the 3rd Virginia Regiment and even wintering at Valley Forge with General George Washington and his troops during the winter of 1777-78 (“James Monroe”).

            In 1780, James Monroe began studying law with Thomas Jefferson, then the Governor of Virginia, and also became friends with James Madison (Bemis). Monroe was also very involved in politics: he served as a delegate in the Virginia Assembly and as a representative to the Congress of the Confederation (“James Monroe”). Madison, too, was involved in the creation of the new United States Constitution and served in the United Stated Senate (“James Monroe”). He served as Governor of Virginia, a minister to both France and Great Britain at different times, President James Madison’s Secretary of State, and, most importantly, as America’s fifth president of the United States serving from 1817 to 1823 (Bemis). During this time, Madison married Elizabeth Kortright in 1786 and had two daughters (“James Monroe”).He retired to his home Oak Hill in Virginia in 1825 and died on July 4, 1831 in New York City (Bemis).


            James Monroe, best known today for the Monroe Doctrine, was the last of America’s Founding Fathers to serve as president of the United States. Monroe, too, was involved in politics from an early age: he served on the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782, served on the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1786, served as a United States Senator in 1790, and was Governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802 and again from 1810 to 1811 (Bemis). Monroe served as minister to both Great Britain and France, helping to secure both the Louisiana Purchase and Florida for the United States (Bemis). He served as both President James Madison’s Secretary of State (1803-1817) and Secretary of War (1814-1815) during the War of 1812 (“James Monroe”). James Monroe was elected as the Republican candidate for the United States in 1817 and served as president until 1823.

            James Monroe, too, desired a stronger Constitution and U.S. Congress that could regulate commerce especially, allowing the United States to navigate the Mississippi River, which was then controlled by the Spanish (Bemis). However, after the new United States Constitution was written, Monroe believed it gave too much power to the federal government and did not offer enough protection for individual rights (“James Monroe”). Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, all against greater federal control at the cost of individual rights, founded the Democratic-Republican Party in 1792 (“James Monroe”). This new political party opposed Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists who desired a stronger federal government (“James Monroe”).

            James Monroe was the first president to have an outside inaugural ceremony, but the White House, destroyed by the British in the War of 1812, was not ready for reoccupation until 1818 (“James Monroe”). James Monroe’s presidency from 1817 to 1823 led to what was known as the “Era of Good Feelings” due to the confidence the country felt from the War of 1812 and the diminishing contention between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists (“James Monroe”). However, the slavery issue became more contentious during Monroe’s first presidential term and eventually resulted in the Missouri Compromise in 1820,which outlawed slavery in most of the Louisiana Territory (“James Monroe). Along with his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, President James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which, in part, declared an end to the European colonization in the Western hemisphere, warned European powers against interfering in the American continent’s interests, and established a formal relationship between the United States and Central and  South America (“Biographies”).


            James Monroe, best-known today for the Monroe Doctrine, is also important for his lasting influence on the government of the United States of America. As the last of America’s Founding Fathers to serve as president, Monroe, too, was involved in the founding of the American government that is still present today. Monroe served in Colonial politics, Virginia politics, and early United States politics. Although Monroe, too, fought in the Revolutionary War against Great Britain; Monroe, too, made his greatest influence politically.

            James Monroe served in the Virginia Assembly, the Congress of the Confederation, and the United States Senate; he served as Governor of Virginia and as minister to both France and Great Britain; he served as President Madison’s Secretary of State and Secretary of War at the same time. Monroe also believed in a strong Constitution, while defending the rights of the individual. Monroe was president during the time when the issue of slavery became more contentious in America, and his presidency was responsible for the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

            However, James Monroe is best remembered for the Monroe Doctrine, which both warned Europe away from the Americas and forged a stronger bond between the countries of the two continents. Without this doctrine, theAmericas may have been subjected to greater European colonialization and greater European influence. This doctrine also was important in disputes over American territory.

Works Cited

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“Biographies of the Secretaries of State: James Monroe (1758-1831).” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, Web. 26Oct. 2018.

Brant, Irving. “James Madison.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., Web. 26 Oct. 2018.

“Commander in Chief: Barbary Pirates.”  Bill of Rights Institute. n.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2018.

Ellis, Joseph J.  “Thomas Jefferson.”  Encyclopædia Britannica,  Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., n.d., Web. 12 Oct. 2018.

Fradin, Dennis Brindell.  Who Was Thomas Jefferson?  Grosset & Dunlap: New York, 2003.  Print.

“James Madison.”, A&E Television Networks, Web. 26 Oct. 2018.

“James Monroe.”, A&E Television Networks, Web. 26 Oct.2018.

“The Life of James Madison.” Explore History At Our House, 30 May 2017,Web. 26 Oct. 2018.

“Signers of the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson.” Independence Hall Association, n.d., Web. 11 Oct. 2018.             

“Thomas Jefferson.”  A&E Television Networks. n.d., Web. 11 Oct. 2018.

“Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.”  Thomas Jefferson, a BriefBiography  Thomas Jefferson’s  Monticello.n.p., n.d., Web. 11 Oct. 2018.

“Thomas Jefferson’s Top 10 Achievements and Contributions.” Degreed Blog. n.d., Web. 11 Oct. 2018.