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Thomas Jefferson

Though not noted for his voluminous literary output or for original scholarship, Thomas Jefferson was a true Renaissance man who possessed a wealth of talents and breadth of knowledge that has resulted in a scope of influence impossible to measure.

From his founding of the University of Virginia to authoring the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson made an indelible stamp on the landscape of the United States and is the embodiment of the independent spirit that characterized the founding fathers of the United States.
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Themes and Facts

  • Though mostly remembered as a former President, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for three accomplishments - (1) Founding the University of Virginia (2) The Declaration of Independence (3) The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
  • Among his many talents were architecture. He designed both the University of Virginia and his home, Monticello.
  • He was also a man of irony. Though he spoke out against slavery and wanted it addressed in the original Declaration of Independence, he was a man of his times and, hence, a slaveowner.
  • Though a devout Deist, he had little use for the doctrines of historic Christianity.

Study Questions

  • Based on your readings of Jefferson, how would you describe his views of the role of government in our lives?
  • What were Jefferson's criticisms of traditional Christianity? What specifics, if any, does he offer to support his criticism?
  • Could you successfully summarize the Declaration of Independence in a sentence or two?
  • Is it possible to reconcile Jefferson's views on slavery with the reality of his owning slaves?

Thomas Jefferson's polymathic expertise would have been enough to make him a renowned historical figure, but when you couple his wide range of learning with his devotion to American independence and individual liberty, you have a recipe for an American founding father without peer.