Thomas Jefferson served as the third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809. Among other things, he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, facilitated the Louisiana Purchase which nearly doubled the size of America, abolished the slave trade and founded the University of Virginia. Know about the contribution of Thomas Jefferson in the development of the United States through his 10 major accomplishments and achievements.

 

#1 Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence (1776) was a formal statement announcing that the United States was no longer a part of the British Empire. The Committee of Five established to create it voted to have Jefferson write the document. The Declaration proved to be an inspiration to numerous national declarations throughout the world. The second sentence of the declaration, in which Jefferson first used the famous phrase “All men are created equal”, has become a well-known statement on human rights and has been called “the most potent and consequential words in American history”.

U.S. Declaration of Independence Opening
The opening of the original printing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence

 

#2 He drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

In 1777, Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which disestablished the Church of England in Virginia and guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths. It was enacted into the state’s law in 1786. It was a precursor to the clause in the First Amendment to US Constitution which prohibited any law which would impede free exercise of religion. The Statute is one of only three accomplishments which were put on the epitaph of Jefferson according to his wish.

Thomas Jefferson Tombstone
Thomas Jefferson Tombstone

 

#3 He served as the third President of the United States

Jefferson served as wartime Governor of Virginia (1779 – 1781), U.S. Minister to France (1785 – 1789), first U.S. Secretary of State (1790 – 1793) under President George Washington and U.S. Vice President (1797–1801) under President John Adams. In the presidential election of 1800, he tied with Aaron Burr. On February 17, 1801, after thirty-six ballots, the House elected Thomas Jefferson as the third President of the United States. In 1804, he was re-elected by an overwhelmingly majority.

Thomas Jefferson Official Presidential Portrait
Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800)

 

#4 United States Military Academy was established during his presidency

In 1801, shortly after his inauguration as president, Jefferson directed that plans be set in motion to establish the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York. On July 4, 1802, the USMA formally started as an institution for scientific and military learning. It went on to become one of the leading institutions in America. Its alumni include two U.S. presidents, presidents of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and of the Philippines, numerous famous generals, and seventy-five Medal of Honor recipients.

United States Military Academy Coat Of Arms
United States Military Academy Coat Of Arms

 

#5 Jefferson doubled the size of the United States during his presidency

In 1802, President Jefferson had made an arrangement for the purchase of New Orleans and adjacent areas from France. Napoleon I offered to sell the entire Louisiana territory for $15 million. The Louisiana Purchase took place in 1803. It doubled the size of the United States at a sum of less than 3 cents per acre and was by far the largest territorial gain in U.S. history. The Louisiana territory proved to be one of the largest fertile tracts of land on the planet. It included land from fifteen present U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.

Louisiana Purchase Map
Map depicting the region added after the Louisiana Purchase

 

#6 He made sure US presence was established in the Louisiana territory

After the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson required the mostly unknown territory to be mapped and explored to establish American presence there before the European powers tried to claim it. This resulted in the Corps of Discovery Expedition which was led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. It helped establish the U.S. presence in the newly acquired territory; and diplomatic and trade relations were made with indigenous tribes. The expedition also obtained a wealth of scientific and geographic knowledge. Its success led to Jefferson organizing three other western exploration expeditions.

William Clark and Meriweather Lewis
William Clark (left) and Meriweather Lewis (right) – Leaders of the Corps of Discovery Expedition

 

#7 President Jefferson abolished the slave trade

On December 2, 1806, in his annual message to Congress, President Jefferson called for the criminalization of international slave trade on the first day it was possible. The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves was signed into law by Jefferson on March 2, 1807 by which no new slaves were permitted to be imported into the United States. It took effect on January 1, 1808, the earliest date permitted by the Constitution. The abolition of the slave trade was a major achievement of Jefferson’s presidency.

 

#8 He made an important contribution to the Library of Congress

As president, Thomas Jefferson played an important role in establishing the structure of the Library of Congress. Later when most of the collection of the library was destroyed by the British in 1814 during the War of 1812, Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 to purchase his 6,487 books. On June 13, 1980, the name of the main building of the Library of Congress was changed to Thomas Jefferson Building to honor his contribution.

Thomas Jefferson Building
The Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress

 

#9 Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia

Jefferson considered education very important in building a good society. He wanted to establish a new institution free of church influences and where students could specialize in new areas not offered at other universities. In 1819, the 76-year-old Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. He was also the principal designer of the buildings. When the university opened in 1825 it was the first to offer a full slate of elective courses and was notable for being centered about a library rather than a church.

The Rotunda - Building at the University of Virginia
The Rotunda – Building at the University of Virginia designed by Thomas Jefferson

 

#10 He wrote a book titled Notes on the State of Virginia

Notes on the State of Virginia is the only full-length book written by Jefferson. It was first published in France in 1785. In the book Jefferson has compiled data about Virginia’s natural resources and economy; and also expressed his views on various subjects including the separation of church and state, constitutional government, checks and balances, individual liberty and slavery. It is often dubbed as the most important American book published before the 1800s.

Notes on the State of Virginia Cover
Cover of the Notes on the State of Virginia by Jefferson

 

Thomas Jefferson And Slavery

Thomas Jefferson’s stand on slavery remains a heated topic of discussion among historians and scholars. His supporters consider him a consistent opponent of slavery and the slave trade. The fact that Jefferson drafted a Virginia law that prohibited the importation of enslaved Africans in 1778 and his abolishment of the slave trade in U.S. in 1807 are major points in his defense. His critics point that while announcing that all men are created equal in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Jefferson himself owned around 175 slaves. Also unlike several leading figures of the time, he never liberated his slaves and remained a buyer and seller of human beings. Jefferson’s relationship with slavery has somewhat marred his otherwise rich legacy.

19 COMMENTS

  1. This site has helped me a lot. I feel like I am much closer to Thomas Jefferson. These facts may also help me on my Thomas Jefferson Research Report.

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