American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell

By Edward S. Mihalkanin | Go to book overview
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THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743-1826)

Served 1790-1793

Appointed by President George Washington

No party designation upon appointment

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13 (New Style), 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia, to Peter Jefferson, a county leader and self-taught surveyor. Peter's wife, Jane Randolph Jefferson, contributed her own distinguished family name to Thomas's legacy. One of eight children born to this marriage, Thomas received a classical education. After extended tutoring in Greek and Latin, he entered the College of William and Mary in 1760, where he became a dedicated and disciplined student. Jefferson especially remembered William Small, adept in science and mathematics, as an influential teacher during his two years at college and George Wythe, a distinguished attorney under whom he read law from 1762-1767.

Called to the bar in 1767, Jefferson left Williamsburg to begin his practice. An assiduous researcher though an indifferent public speaker, he handled many cases involving land titles. Elected from Albemarle County to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1768, he quickly demonstrated his support for those who were challenging British authority to legislate for the American colonies. He formally expressed his hardening attitudes in 1774 when he wrote “A Summary View of the Rights of British America, a widely circulated disquisition that led the Virginia legislature to elect him a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He arrived in Philadelphia in June 1775, ready to defend measures pointing toward independence.

Appointed by the Congress to a committee of five in 1775 to compose a statement explaining why a break with Great Britain was justified, Jefferson himself wrote the first draft. Most portions of the draft were modified by his colleagues, but not one word was changed of his great declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-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.” His succinct state-ment presenting the concepts of inviolable rights and natural law, a convention of

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American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell
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