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Publié le : 10/5/2013 -Format: Document en format HTML protégé

Thomas Jefferson.
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Thomas Jefferson.
I

INTRODUCTION

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third president of the United States (1801-1809) and author of the Declaration of Independence. He was one of the most brilliant
individuals in history. His interests were boundless, and his accomplishments were great and varied. He was a philosopher, educator, naturalist, politician, scientist,
architect, inventor, pioneer in scientific farming, musician, and writer, and he was the foremost spokesman for democracy of his day.
As president, Jefferson strengthened the powers of the executive branch of government. He was the first president to lead a political party, and through it he exercised
control over the Congress of the United States. He had great faith in popular rule, and it is this optimism that is the essence of what came to be called Jeffersonian
democracy.
Jefferson swore his hostility, he said, to "every form of tyranny over the mind of man." During his lifetime he sought to develop a government that would best assure
the freedom and well-being of the individual.

II

EARLY LIFE

Thomas Jefferson's father, Peter Jefferson, was a prosperous Virginia planter. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was a member of the old and distinguished
Randolph family of Virginia. In 1743 the Jeffersons moved to western Goochland County, where Peter Jefferson had acquired 162 hectares (400 acres) of undeveloped
land. He named his estate Shadwell. At first the family lived in a simple wood-frame house.
Thomas Jefferson was born in this house on April 13, 1743. A year after his birth, Albemarle County was formed from the western portion of Goochland County. Peter
Jefferson soon became a leader in the new county. He was a justice of the peace, a magistrate, and commander of the county militia. Although young Jefferson was
accepted into the Virginia aristocracy through his mother's family, it was his father, a self-made man, whom he especially admired.
In 1745, William Randolph, a cousin of Mrs. Jefferson and a close friend of the family, died. His will requested that Peter Jefferson move to his estate, manage the house
and land, and supervise the education of Randolph's four children. The Jeffersons remained at Randolph's estate, known as Tuckahoe, for seven years.

A

Education

Thomas was five years old when he began his education under the family tutor at Tuckahoe. In 1752 the Jeffersons returned to Shadwell and again started work on a
plantation home. Thomas, however, spent little time at Shadwell. Almost immediately he was sent to Northam in St. James Parish, Virginia, where he studied Latin with
the Reverend William Douglas until 1757, when his father died. He was then sent to the school of the Reverend James Maury in Fredericksville Parish, Virginia, and
spent two years studying Greek and Latin classics, history, literature, geography, and natural science.
Jefferson was a tall, slender boy with sandy hair of a reddish cast and fair skin that freckled and sunburned easily. A serious student, he also enjoyed the lighter aspects
of the education of a Virginia gentleman. He learned to dance and play the violin and became an excellent horseman. Weekends and holidays he spent either at
Shadwell entertaining guests or at his friends' plantations.
In March 1760 Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Virginia's capital city, Williamsburg, and soon came under the influence of Dr. William Small.
Jefferson became a favorite of the doctor, who taught mathematics, natural history, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. Jefferson also continued his study of classical
literature.

B

Lawyer

After two years at William and Mary, Jefferson left to study law with Dr. Small's friend George Wythe, the most learned lawyer in Virginia. Jefferson was very fond of
Wythe and called him "my second father." Even while reading law, Jefferson had many other interests. He studied French, Italian, and English history and literature. He
was keenly interested in the new scientific theory of inoculation and traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to have himself inoculated against smallpox.
In 1767, after five years of work and study under Wythe, Jefferson was admitted to the practice of law in Virginia. He was reasonably successful as a lawyer, but he did
not earn enough to support a Virginia gentleman. Jefferson's main source of income, like that of most other Virginia lawyers, was his land.
Throughout his years of law practice, Jefferson spent much time supervising the Shadwell plantation. In this occupation, as in his studies, he was most methodical. He
observed the growth of his plants and trees, keeping records of them in a special garden book. A careful observer of his environment, he kept a lifelong record of such
things as temperature, weather, expenses, recipes, and anything else that struck him as noteworthy. "There is," he once wrote, "not a sprig of grass that shoots
uninteresting to me."
The year of his admission to practice law, Jefferson began work on his mountaintop estate, Monticello, near what is now Charlottesville, Virginia. Jefferson designed the
mansion himself in the classical style of architecture.

C

Marriage

On New Year's Day, 1772, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton, a 24-year-old widow. Patty, as Jefferson called her, shared her husband's love of music and played
the harpsichord and piano. The marriage was a happy one despite Mrs. Jefferson's ill health. Of their six children, only two, both of them girls, lived to maturity. Martha
Jefferson died in 1782. The death of his wife had a profound effect on Jefferson and probably influenced his return to politics, which he had considered abandoning.

III EARLY CAREER
A Virginia Burgess
By the time of his marriage, Jefferson had for several years been a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. This was the lower chamber of the Virginia legislature,
which was called the General Assembly. He was elected in 1768 and took his seat at Williamsburg in the spring of 1769. As a burgess, Jefferson took an active part in
the events that led to the American Revolution (1775-1783). He belonged to the so-called radical group that was in opposition to the conservative planters of the
Tidewater region. Many of his democratic views came from his experience as a resident of the western part of the colony, near the frontier, where he saw the colonists
carve a civilization out of the wilderness. This strengthened his lifelong belief that people could and should govern themselves.

Jefferson was a poor speaker, but his literary talents made him a highly valued member of committees when resolutions and other public papers were drafted. He
emerged as the recognized author of the patriot cause in Virginia and indeed in the whole of the colonies. Jefferson's first public paper, however, was considered too
stiff and formal, and it was rewritten. The paper was a response to the greeting of the new governor, Lord Botetourt, to the General Assembly. Jefferson, who never
took criticism graciously, remembered the incident with annoyance for many years.

A1

Townshend Acts

In 1769 Jefferson joined his fellow burgesses in opposing the Townshend Acts. These laws passed by the British Parliament required the colonies to pay duties on paint,
lead, paper, and tea. They also made changes in colonial administration that disturbed the colonists. The Massachusetts legislature appealed to the other colonies for
concerted action against the laws. Virginia responded with resolutions protesting the acts. Governor Botetourt, learning of the resolutions, dissolved the General
Assembly. However, the burgesses moved their meeting to the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, where Jefferson and the others signed an association, or pledge of
action. Drafted by Burgess George Mason and introduced by Burgess George Washington, the document went far beyond any previous protest. It bound its signers not
to buy a number of imported goods until the Townshend duties were abolished.
Faced with the prospect of a boycott, Great Britain lifted most of the offensive duties. Thus the colonists were quieted so effectively, Jefferson said, that they "seemed
to fall into a state of insensibility to our situation." He, however, was not deceived. He noted that the tea tax still held and that Parliament still claimed the right "to bind
us by their laws in all cases whatsoever."

A2

Committee of Correspondence

In 1773, in retaliation for the burning of the British ship Gaspée near Providence, Rhode Island, the British government ordered a special court of inquiry and
threatened to send the perpetrators to Britain for trial. Jefferson and his brother-in-law Dabney Carr were among the burgesses who protested the British threats. They
met secretly with burgesses Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee and a few others to consider a plan of action. Carr drew up a set of resolutions proposing a committee
of correspondence for Virginia. The committee was to keep in touch with other colonies on matters of common interest. Other resolutions challenged the legality of the
court of inquiry and protested the threat "to transmit persons accused of offenses committed in America to places beyond the seas to be tried." The resolutions were
passed by the General Assembly. Although the committee of correspondence did not include Jefferson or other so-called radicals, the first step had been taken toward
communication and joint action on grievances by all the colonies.

A3

Jefferson's Resolutions

Early in 1774 the colonies were angered by the passage of what were called the Intolerable Acts. One of these, the Boston Port Act, closed Boston Harbor in retaliation
for a protest incident, the so-called Boston Tea Party, where angry colonists dumped British tea into Boston Harbor. Virginia protested the Boston Port Act, and
Jefferson was one of the burgesses who suggested that the day the act went into effect should be declared "a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer." Because of this
resolution, the General Assembly was again dismissed, this time by Lord Dunmore, who had replaced Botetourt as governor.
Virginians immediately elected their dismissed burgesses as delegates to a convention to consider the grievances of the colonies. As delegate from Albemarle County,
Jefferson wrote a series of resolutions later titled A Summary View of the Rights of British America. In defining the grievances with Great Britain, Jefferson denied that
Parliament had any authority over the colonies, and he attacked the restrictive acts passed by Parliament as a deliberate plan to destroy colonial freedom. Jefferson also
accused the king of rejecting the best laws passed by colonial legislatures, of preventing the outlawing of slavery in the colonies, of permitting his governors to dissolve
colonial assemblies, and of sending in armed forces without having the right to do so. Jefferson said the colonists were "a free people claiming their rights as derived
from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their Chief Magistrate."
On his way to Williamsburg, where the convention was to meet, Jefferson became ill. He was unable to go on but sent his Summary View to be presented by fellow
Burgess Peyton Randolph. The younger delegates applauded Jefferson's work, but for the time being "tamer sentiments were preferred," as Jefferson put it. The
Summary View was set aside in favor of a more tactfully phrased remonstrance to Parliament. However, Jefferson's work was published in Philadelphia and England, and
Jefferson's talents as a writer and political thinker came to the attention of American patriots outside of Virginia.

A4

Richmond Convention

In March 1775 Jefferson was a delegate to a Virginia convention held at Richmond to approve the decisions made at the First Continental Congress, an assembly of
representatives from the different colonies that had met the previous fall to organize resistance to Britain. At Richmond it was decided that the colonies must resort to
arms against England. Patrick Henry on this occasion made his stirring "give me liberty or give me death" speech. Jefferson supported Henry's call to arms with his first
public address. The convention then chose him as an alternate delegate to the Second Continental Congress to serve if the elected delegate, Peyton Randolph, should
be unable to attend.

A5

Burgesses' Last Session

Before the Second Continental Congress convened, events in Virginia reached a crisis. Lord Dunmore, the governor, had angered Virginians by his high-handed conduct.
They were further aroused when word came of the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, when Massachusetts militias first took up arms against the British
troops. The American Revolution had begun. (See Lexington, Battle of; Concord, Battle of.) Dunmore was frightened and called a meeting of the General Assembly,
which both Jefferson and Randolph attended.
At first, Dunmore tried to calm the assembly with assurances that no more taxes would be levied. Instead, he said, they would return to the old system whereby the
colonies voluntarily contributed money to Great Britain. However, these assurances came too late to appease the Virginians. Dunmore felt his life was endangered and
fled to a British warship. He never returned to Virginia.
The assembly continued to work without him. Jefferson's written reply to the assurances made by Dunmore stated that "the British Parliament has no right to
intermeddle with the support of civil Government in the Colonies." Virginia, Jefferson declared, was now represented in the Continental Congress and would go along
with the decisions of the other colonies. His reply, slightly amended, was adopted by the assembly, and Jefferson left for Philadelphia and the meeting of the Continental
Congress. Randolph remained in Williamsburg to preside over the assembly.

B

Declaration of Independence

On June 21, 1775, Jefferson took his seat in Congress. A few days later, John Rutledge of South Carolina was appointed to write a statement explaining the colonists'
reasons for making war on Britain. Rutledge's paper was not approved, and Jefferson, who by now had earned wide acclaim as a writer, was asked to write a new draft.

His version contained many of the ideas expressed in the Summary View, and it brought forth the same cry of radicalism from the conservatives. John Dickinson of
Pennsylvania rewrote Jefferson's paper, and Congress approved it on July 6, 1775.
The following summer, Jefferson sat in Congress as an elected delegate, not as an alternate. It was at this session that he wrote his most famous document, the
Declaration of Independence.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, who was also a congressman from Virginia, proposed a resolution stating "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be,
free and independent States." Jefferson was one of a committee of five appointed to draft a declaration "to the effect of the said ... resolution." The committee asked
Jefferson to draft the paper, and according to committee member John Adams, Jefferson replied, "Well, if you are decided, I will do as well as I can." When his draft was
completed, Adams, committee member Benjamin Franklin, and Jefferson himself made corrections.
On July 2, 1776, Lee's resolution for independence was passed by Congress. Technically, this was the actual day of American independence. Then the declaration was
debated, several changes were made, and some parts were dropped entirely. Jefferson regretted especially the deletion of a long paragraph denouncing the slave trade
and the whole institution of slavery as a "cruel war against human nature itself."
The objective of the declaration, in Jefferson's own words, was to justify American independence "in terms so plain and full as to command their assent." As an
expression of the philosophy of the natural rights of people in an age when absolute monarchs ruled throughout the world, it had an immense impact in America and in
Europe as well. Jefferson did not originate the concept of government by consent and the belief that all people are endowed with certain rights that government cannot
infringe upon. These ideas came from European philosophers, most notably 17th century British philosopher John Locke. However, in the declaration they were given a
practical application for the first time. Furthermore, in Jefferson's words they achieved their most eloquent expression.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable 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. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new
Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted. The bands that had connected America with Great Britain were broken. Within a few days the
declaration was being read to people throughout the colonies, and it was received with great rejoicing. The declaration held the essence of Jefferson's ideals, and he
spent the rest of his life applying its principles to the new American government.

C

Virginia Legislator

While Jefferson was writing the declaration, a convention of the General Assembly in Virginia was drafting laws suitable for the state's new republican form of
government. Eager to take part in this enterprise, Jefferson resigned from Congress and, in September 1776, returned to Virginia. A congressional appointment as
minister to France followed him home. However, he declined the appointment in order to serve in the Virginia convention.

C1

Legislation

Jefferson was opposed to all forms of tyranny. He also had great faith in the ability to rule by reason. Therefore, in helping to make laws for Virginia, his guiding
principle was to place as few restrictions as possible upon the people of the state. Jefferson was a strong advocate of land reform. A few families owned most of the land
in Virginia and, because ownership of land was a prerequisite for voting, these same families also controlled the government. By his efforts the old hereditary property
laws were modified to enable more people to own land, which led to greater democracy in the state.
Jefferson's most noteworthy achievement at the convention was his bill to establish religious freedom and to ensure the separation of church and state. The bill
guaranteed, in Jefferson's own words, "that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever." It guaranteed, too,
that no one should suffer in any way for his "religious opinions or belief." Introduced in 1779, the bill did not become law until 1786, when, through the leadership of
Legislator James Madison, it was enacted by the General Assembly.
Jefferson was less successful with his educational program. His "bill for the more general diffusion of knowledge" would have provided schooling for children whose
parents could not afford private schools. The bill as written never passed the General Assembly. However, it set forth a philosophy that was eventually embodied in the
national institution of the free public school.

C2

Monticello

During this period, Jefferson managed to spend considerable time with his family. Even in leisure he was never idle. He once more took up building projects at Monticello
and continued to develop his land, attempting such exotic plantings as olive and orange trees. Jefferson was a philosopher and at the same time an architect and an
inventor. He invented the dumbwaiter, a swivel chair, a lamp-heater, and an improved plow for which the French gave him a medal. He tinkered with clocks, steam
engines, and metronomes. He collected plans of large cities and later helped in the planning of Washington, D.C. Scientific subjects always interested him. He entered
into a transatlantic correspondence with Giovanni Fabbroni, an Italian naturalist, in order to compare climate and plant life in Virginia and southern Europe. Jefferson
also added to his valuable collection of books and bought instruments for making astronomical observations.
By 1779, most Virginians believed that the war was near its end. British General John Burgoyne had surrendered, and 4000 British and German prisoners of war from
Burgoyne's command were sent to Virginia. However, General George Washington, the Virginian who commanded the Continental Army, knew that much fighting lay
ahead and that the country needed the efforts of its able people. He deplored the retirement to private life of such people as Jefferson. Edmund Pendleton, a Virginia
patriot, was more specific. He told Jefferson, "You are too young to ask that happy quietus from the public, and should ... at least postpone it til you have taught the
rising Generation the forms as well as the substantial principles of legislation." Jefferson therefore returned to politics, and in 1779 he was elected governor of Virginia,
succeeding Patrick Henry.

D

Governor of Virginia

The Virginia constitution strictly limited the power of the executive branch of government in order to deny that branch the dictatorial powers previously held by the
colonial governors. Jefferson had agreed that the executive office should be merely a tool for carrying out the mandates of the legislature. As governor, however, he
found that constitutional restrictions of his power prevented his taking action, and in time of war quick action was needed.

Furthermore, Jefferson was temperamentally unsuited to deal with military matters. He wished only for the imm...


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