Thomas Jefferson requested that on his tombstone he should be remembered for three things.
- Author of the Declaration of Independence.
- Passing the statute of Religious Freedom in Virginia.
- Founding of the University of Virginia.
The Declaration of Indepedence
The Declaration of Independence was a major achievement because it expressed the highest ideals of the American Revolution and became an influential document and inspiration for other countries. Many of the ideas he wrote about were derived from the works of others, in particular Locke’s – The Rights of Man. He also received suggestions from Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. However Jefferson’s achievement was to bring together the best ideas and express them in a memorable, almost mantric style.
“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.”
The Declaration of Independence has epitomised the American ideals of freedom and democracy more than any other document.
Religious freedom was important to Jefferson. He believed there should be a separation between state and religion and he argued individuals should be free to follow whichever religion they chose.
The 1786 – The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was a landmark piece of legislation. It is worth remembering that at the time the idea of religious freedom was quite revolutionary. (See: Timeline of religious freedom). Religious minorities frequently experienced suppression and persecution. The bill only passed with great opposition from those who saw the bill as an attack on Christianity. This bill cemented the idea of religious freedom in America; giving individuals the right to purse their own spiritual and religious paths. Jefferson was instrumental in creating a separation between State and Religion.
The University of Virginia
In the last 17 years of Jefferson’s life, he designed and was the inspiration behind the University of Virginia. It was his belief that education was closely linked with personal freedom and a vibrant nation. He felt that only through making education available and accessible to all could individual freedom be made meaningful.
Other achievements of Jefferson
Purchase of Louisiana
In 1803, Jefferson oversaw the successful purchase of the Louisiana territories, which included 828,000 square miles (2,140,000 km2) in the middle of America. The US paid a sum total of 15 million dollars for the rights.
Banning import of slaves into the US
In 1807, Thomas Jefferson drafted and signed into law a bill banning the importation of slaves into the United States. Jefferson wrote of his opposition to the principle of slavery.
“There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.”
- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, September 1814
Jefferson hoped that slavery could be gradually abolished. But, he feared the consequences should it be ended ‘undemocratically’ He also feared the long-term consequence of slavery on the future of the union. Speaking about slavery in 1782, Jefferson wrote:
Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever…
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782
Jefferson also attempted to ban slavery in all Western territories in 1800, but his bill was defeated in Congress by one vote.
Defender of Liberty
Jefferson was a strong advocate of liberty and protecting the rights of individuals against the state. His concept and defence of liberty played an important role in the development of US democracy. As President he pardoned several people imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Act passed in John Adam’s Presidency.
Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men.
- Thomas Jefferson
Promotion of peace
Jefferson sought to keep American from being entangled in foreign wars. He sought to reduce the size of the US navy and avoid conflict. During escalation of tension with Britain, he rejected calls for war, and opted instead for the policy of Embargo.
“If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is, that we should have nothing to do with conquest. The energies of the nation, as depends on me, shall be reserved for improvement of the condition of man, not wasted in his destruction. The lamentable resource of war is not authorized for evils of imagination, but for those actual injuries only, which would be more destructive of our well-being than war itself. Peace, justice, and liberal with all the nations of the world, will, I hope, with all nations, characterize this commonwealth.”
- Thomas Jefferson
Light and Liberty – Selected inspirational Quotes of Thomas Jefferson. Highly Recommended
Life of Thomas Jefferson and Selected Writings