Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 and died in 1826. At the Second Continental Congress he drafted the Declaration of Independence. In 1779 he became governor of Virginia, guiding that state through the troubled last years of the American revolution. In 1785 he became minister to France. From 1790 to 1793 he served as secretary of state in President Washington’s cabinet. He served as vice president from 1797 to 1801. In 1800 Jefferson was chosen president by the House of Representatives in order to break a tie with Aaron Burr. He served as president from 1801 to 1809. Jefferson was the first president inaugurated in Washington, a city he had helped to plan. He pushed through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. He also planned the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In the later years of his life, in retirement at his beloved home, Monticello, Jefferson worked to found the University of Virginia and continued his lifelong interests in science, architecture, philosophy, and the arts.
The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776, is one of the great political documents of history. Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of this masterpiece.
How the Declaration of Independence Was Adopted
From The World AlmanacÆ and Book of Facts 1995
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, who had issued the first call for a congress of the colonies, introduced in the Continental Congress at Philadelphia a resolution declaring “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
The resolution, seconded by John Adams on behalf of the Massachusetts delegation, came up again June 10 when a committee of 5, headed by Thomas Jefferson, was appointed to express the purpose of the resolution in a declaration of independence. The others on the committee were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman.
Drafting the Declaration was assigned to Jefferson, who worked on a portable desk of his own construction in a room at Market and 7th Sts. The committee reported the result June 28, 1776. The members of the Congress suggested a number of changes, which Jefferson called “deplorable.” They didn’t approve Jefferson’s arraignment of the British people and King George III for encouraging and fostering the slave trade, which Jefferson called “an execrable commerce.” They made 86 changes, eliminating 480 words and leaving 1,337. In the final form capitalization was erratic. Jefferson had written that men were endowed with “inalienable” rights; in the final copy it came out as “unalienable” and has been thus ever since.
The Lee-Adams resolution of independence was adopted by 12 yeas July 2 – the actual date of the act of independence. The Declaration, which explains the act, was adopted July 4, in the evening. After the Declaration was adopted, July 4, 1776, it was turned over to John Dunlap, printer, to be printed on broadsides. The original copy was lost and one of his broadsides was attached to a page in the journal of the Congress. It was read aloud July 8 in Philadelphia, Easton, Pa., and Trenton, N.J. On July 9 at 6 p.m. it was read by order of Gen. George Washington to the troops assembled on the Common in New York City (City Hall Park).
The World AlmanacÆ and Book of Facts 1995 is licensed from Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. Copyright © 1994 by Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the Lousiana Purchase and the land beyond to the Pacific Ocean. The group led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark travelled up the Missouri River from St. Louis in May 1804, and in 1805 their Shoshone woman guide, Sacajawea, led them across the Rockies. Their expedition opened vast new territories to the U.S.
The Continental Congress
The Continental Congress (1774-89) was the federal legislature of the Thirteen Colonies and later of the U.S. under the Articles of Confederation. After England passed the Intolerable Acts, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and petitioned the king. The Second Continental Congress met on May 10, 1775. It created the Continental Army, named George Washington commander in chief, and adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.