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Interesting Fun Facts About Thomas Jefferson

Updated on February 8, 2015
NateB11 profile image

I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 1995. My interests include political and social issues and history.

It seems Jefferson found more life in intellectual pursuits and exploration than political fame, and wanted to leave a moral impression rather than a political one.

Thomas Jefferson was our first Secretary of State, ambassador to France, second Vice-President, and third President. He was author of one of the most beautifully-worded and inspiring documents in history, The Declaration of Independence, which includes prose which can deeply touch the heart of the reader: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..."

Indeed, Jefferson was a prolific writer. On his grave is inscribed, not that he was a US President, but that he was a great writer. His grave reads:

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and Father of the University of Virginia."

It seems Jefferson found more life in intellectual pursuits and exploration than political fame, and wanted to leave a moral impression rather than a political one. In fact, Jefferson was wary of politics and government. He was an early advocate of limited government and, therefore, during both of his terms as President, he never once used his veto power; this is unusual for a President spending that much time in office.

While these are quite fascinating facts, there is more to the personal man than just his political life. Let's explore Thomas Jefferson, the man.

He Loved to Study

Thomas Jefferson loved gadgets, studied anthropology, had a telescope for star-gazing, and had a personal library of over 6,000 books. He also wrote prolifically, including over 19,000 letters. Incidentally, he kept a polygraph that copied every letter he wrote. In addition, he had a rotating book-stand that held up to 5 books, which helped him in reading all those books he owned. He was an avid reader.

Jefferson was an architect as well. He designed his mansion in Virgina, known as Monticello, which had skylights, octagonal rooms, and double doors that could be opened with the use of a single handle. It seems he was particular how he wanted his mansion designed.

He also designed a building at the University of Virginia, a school which he founded.

His intellectual pursuits were diverse. He worked at piecing together the parts of an ancient mastodon, right there in the White House's East Room.

As is well-known, Jefferson was for religious freedom but for the separation of church and state as well. Some of his religious views were unpopular. He had been accused of being atheist. In fact, he was not. He was a Unitarian, but did not believe Jesus was divine. I suppose that was enough to outrage certain segments of the population. It seems to have made him subject to various political attacks.

Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States
Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States | Source

Early Mud-slinging Victim

Led by the Federalists, attacks were ruthlessly hurled at Jefferson by the media, by political opponents, and even by the president of Yale. By all accounts, the campaign against Jefferson was one of the most brutal and earliest political mud-slinging in US history. John Adams accused him of having an affair with a slave, his religious convictions were questioned, and it was made to sound like women and children would not be safe if he were President. Rather bizarre, but tells you how long ago this tactic was used. New England residents hid their bibles in their wells, for fear that Jefferson was going to take them away. Sound familiar? Trying to make a candidate or President sound like a dangerous "other" is nothing new.

Thomas Jefferson vs John Adams

What do you think of Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemings?

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He was Against Slavery

Strangely enough, Adams' attack on Jefferson for having an affair with his slave was not inaccurate. But like so many political sex scandals, the correct response to the allegation is, So what? I mean, really. Such a flimsy criticism and self-righteous in tone.

Fact is, Jefferson did own slaves, and had a relationship with one, Sally Hemings, and the couple had children together.

But Thomas Jefferson was staunchly anti-slavery. He'd originally included in the Declaration of Independence, a section lambasting Britain for running the slave trade; the section was taken out due to objections from Georgia and South Carolina. In 1769 and 1783, he pushed for bills to end slavery, but both were defeated. In 1807, he signed a bill to abolish slavery.

Jefferson's ownership of slaves was related to his on-going debts. He, essentially, had mortgaged slaves and couldn't free them until he paid off his debts; which never happened.

Monticello, Jefferson's mansion in Virginia, which he designed.
Monticello, Jefferson's mansion in Virginia, which he designed. | Source

...his slaves were sold to pay for his outstanding debt.

He Was Always in Debt

Jefferson was always in debt. In fact, as stated, he kept mortgaged slaves due to debt, and after he died, his slaves were sold to pay for his outstanding debt.

In addition, to pay on his debt, he sold his collection of more than 6,000 books. These books stocked the shelves of the Library of Congress, which had lost its books because the British had burned them up in an attack in 1814.

Words in this Video from Actual Article in Connecticut Courant, 1800

Food and Wine

Our third President loved food and wine. In fact, one of the reasons for his debt was due to his love of wine. While in office, he spent $10,835.90 on wine, which would be $146,524.40 today.

The President had been ambassador to France, and he brought French cuisine to the United States. In fact, he is responsible for bringing us a couple American favorites: Ice cream and french fries.

At Monticello, Jefferson kept a garden full of fruits and vegetables. He loved to grow peas and regularly snacked on them, fresh from the garden.

The term The Big Cheese comes from the fact that Thomas Jefferson was once given a huge 1,235 pound hunk of cheese.

He ate a tomato in public to prove it wasn't poisonous. He evidently had a special and trusting relationship with food.

Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson drawing up the Declaration of Independence.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson drawing up the Declaration of Independence. | Source

He Was an Animal Lover

Having sent Lewis and Clark off on their expedition west, Jefferson was able to get his hands on bears brought back from the venture. He kept bears in cages on the White House lawn, which eventually came to be known as the President's Bear Garden.

The explorer, Zebulon Pike sent the President grizzly bear cubs as gifts, back in 1807. The President raised lions.

He taught his favorite pet mockingbird to eat food from his mouth and often kept the bird perched on his shoulder. Evidently the bird liked the President so much that he followed him around the house.

He Was a Bad Public Speaker

Though he was a brilliant and prolific writer, he was known for being a terrible public speaker. He would mumble and become inaudible during public speeches, and didn't like giving them.

He was Informal

He was often criticized for dressing shabbily, and he introduced the custom of shaking hands when greetings were made at the White House, rather than the traditional bow.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Died on the Same Day

Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were founding fathers and they were bitter political rivals, disagreeing strongly on how much power the federal government should have. Both men died fifty years after the Declaration of Independence had been adopted; on the very same day, within hours of each other.

So, it is interesting to know Thomas Jefferson the man--as personally as is possible considering we never could have met him--and not just the historical figure. He was indeed a fascinating and complex person, with an inquisitive nature and a strong sense of independence and integrity.

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    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 3 years ago from Austin, Texas

      "People are slaves when they want to be slaves. " You're right.

      I myself have chosen and want to be a free slave. Made that decision when I was about 19 years old. Never regretted it. Wouldn't live my life any other way.

      Very much appreciated you taking your time to return my comments.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      That is exactly my point. Everyone could end it, that's even what I said. Including Jefferson. And those supposedly noble "working people" could end it too, instead of making excuses. I used to be one of them, I know. People are slaves when they want to be slaves. Frederick Douglass didn't want to be a slave. He was no Jefferson. He was better than that. And you could say he had no choice, like those noble "working people" and poor ol Jefferson, that he had to be a slave. Yet, he ended it.

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 3 years ago from Austin, Texas

      NateB11 - Breaking it down.

      * To the contrary, though unfortunately its the dominant view in society, but we all have the power to end what is wrong. It's in our hands to end what is wrong because it's in our hands also to blindly perpetuate it.

      - AGREE.

      * Jefferson, if he truly felt in his heart that slavery is wrong, could have ended it or stopped being a part of the system that kept it going. This is a fact. It might be a difficult one to accept, but it is a fact.

      - ??? You give the man way too much credit. I think he worked within the constraints of his conscience and his ideas of right and wrong. ( As do we all.)

      * What is wrong in the world occurs because we do it, we allow it, we accept it and keep it going. Obviously. Just like people who insist on being drones, groveling for a job or staying on a job that deteriorates brain and body, do what they don't want to do because somebody told them to conform and do what they're "supposed to do".

      - It's not that simple. Those "working people" may have dependents who depend on them. Coalminers for example??

      * Guess what? If everyone stopped doing that, no one would be trapped in it anymore. That's not naïve. That's fact.

      - Trapped? If it's a trap, there's got to be a way to escape then.

      * Why do you think Hitler had all that power and committed those atrocities? He didn't do it alone. A whole lot of dumb people helped him do it. Almost a whole country.

      - True. A whole country AND allies.

      MY COMMENTS: We all have the power to stop ourselves from doing what is wrong and we can try to influence others to follow our lead. If we ALL stopped doing something that is wrong, the wrongdoing would end. That's obvious. But to put the weight of ending something that is wrong on one person's shoulders who only has control over their own thoughts, actions and decisions? Individually, Jefferson could have (or might have) stopped himself from owning slaves, which I think he should have. I mean ... If he was going to take a stand against slavery or anything else, or fight for freedom and equality for other, then how could he tell others not to, when they see him taking an active part?

      So as I said, we all have to look to ourselves to make change happen. But what we can accomplish individually does not automatically lead to collective "copy cat" action; although our individual actions can have widespread benefits for the entire soceity. America has a "black" history. America's founding fathers were ordinary people like everybody else and as imperfect as all the rest of us.

      My mother used to say: "You can befriend and be kind to anybody. But don't let anybody influence you to do wrong. You should always try to influence others to do good. Just remember you can't control nobody."

      The finality of the words you chose "TO END"? You could argue slaves could have ENDED slavery. They could have rose up and said: "We're mad! We're not gonna take it any more!" They coul have organized an underground railroad and just got the heck out of Dodge City! Why rely on Jefferson TO END slavery? They hung John Brown and he was a white guy!

      Eh! Folks tried TO END Christianity. People try TO END stuff all the time. No point pointing a finger at one person and saying they didn't END injustice when they could have as if other people didn't have any accountability for their own actions and weren't living in the same world with them.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      To the contrary, though unfortunately its the dominant view in society, but we all have the power to end what is wrong. It's in our hands to end what is wrong because it's in our hands also to blindly perpetuate it. Jefferson, if he truly felt in his heart that slavery is wrong, could have ended it or stopped being a part of the system that kept it going. This is a fact. It might be a difficult one to accept, but it is a fact. What is wrong in the world occurs because we do it, we allow it, we accept it and keep it going. Obviously. Just like people who insist on being drones, groveling for a job or staying on a job that deteriorates brain and body, do what they don't want to do because somebody told them to conform and do what they're "supposed to do". Guess what? If everyone stopped doing that, no one would be trapped in it anymore. That's not naïve. That's fact. Why do you think Hitler had all that power and committed those atrocities? He didn't do it alone. A whole lot of dumb people helped him do it. Almost a whole country.

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 3 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Hey NateB - you and Chips are having a really good discussion and I don't want to butt in but ... you said "Jefferson, considering his power and influence, could have ended slavery from the beginning."

      That's very naïve. If all it took was power and influence TO END corruption, greed, inhumanity, etc. - living on earth would be heaven.

      Mr. Chips - I can only go by what I've read, never having met the man personally - but what I read about him (or seen in the movies) - he's doesn't seem like a bad fellow. Some folks bash Lincoln and Kennedy as well. I don't look to others to right wrongs. I look in the mirror, try to live with others so as not to offend, hurt, harm or injure my fellow man, and I pray for deliverance from evil. So does that work? Well - if nothing else - I'm clear on whether or not I'm the one committing the evil!

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      I like your balanced view on this subject, Treathyl. I think you're right about the three Presidents you mentioned, very beloved Presidents of the US. Thanks for the information on your article too, I think it supplements the information I've given here very well.

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 3 years ago from Austin, Texas

      "...his slaves were sold to pay for his outstanding debt." No surprise there. He was after all a very savvy business man. Quite often in life, though our ideals are high and noble, sometimes our decisions just boil down to dollars and cents. None of US are flawless.

      3 of America's most beloved leaders: Jefferson, Lincoln and Kennedy. (My humble opinion.) I wrote an article about American Presidents at another writing site and I'm going to backlink to this HUB from there.

      http://wizzley.com/u-s-history-timeline-from-washi...

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Thank you for responding and sharing your insights, chipsball. I absolutely agree; it seems Jefferson, considering his power and influence, could have ended slavery from the beginning. He profited from it, being a land-owner and a businessman. And it is safe to say he held power and unfair sway over the people he dominated, including the women he held in bondage; "kind" or not. Slavery, whether supposedly pleasant or degrading is, either way, degrading; that a human being would enslave and exploit another is enough of a statement about his character regardless of whatever efforts he purports to make to the contrary. The Nuremburg Defense is never a good excuse and even to this day such things are used as justification to continue a corrupt and exploitative social and economic system.

    • chipsball profile image

      chipsball 3 years ago from Houston, Texas USA

      NateB11 Jefferson enslaved black people to build his empire, work his properties and live a very comfortable life. Slavery was despised by many and many fought against slavery, Jefferson was one of them but was not such a great leader to end this institution. And it was an institution that was recognized as wrong and against moral values.

      Some suggest that Jefferson was "kind" to his slaves, but from a slaves point of view and condition...there is no kindness for those remaining in bondage unable to live a life in freedom. Jefferson could have settled slavery within the Declaration of Independence and recognized black people within that document as full citizens of this country...with franchise. Jefferson chose not to and I would submit that his ownership of black slaves and their use to him in expanding his personal wealth was more important...along with his sexual exploits of the black women on Monticello plantation.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      Yes, SandCastles, you raise many good questions. I have wondered exactly what his relationship with Sally Hemings was too. They did have a family and he freed his children; that's hardly generous, and it's a bit of a statement about him that he approved of slavery enough to have slaves in the first place; I certainly didn't want to justify his owning slaves, and I think chipball is correct in his statement that Jefferson did some very vile things; the least of which was forcing Native Americans to go into debt and forcing them off their land, as Jefferson pushed the country to expand west. Andrew Jackson's horrid policy of brutalizing and and relocating Native Americans were originally hatched by Jefferson. I did not intend to glorify Jefferson by any means, but wanted to paint a picture of what he was in a somewhat ordinary, and at times very strange, sense. I agree with you about the animals; I imagine he just liked to keep animals, but I don't know that he loved them, especially if he kept them caged; also, he was a fox hunter, which is an indication of his cruelty and flippancy, actually. I think it would be interesting for this discussion to expand and for us to find out more about Jefferson.

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      SandCastles 3 years ago

      It was wrong that Jefferson had slaves but I think he was kind to them. I'm guessing that he used them to help pay for his wine by mortgaging them. Unfortunately, they were sold when he died and who knows what kind of home they got then. A very interesting hub though. I don't like the idea of bears in cages; I hope they were big cages. I hope he was nice to his lions and bears. What happened to these animals when he passed away? I guess they were sold too to pay for his debts. I hope a mean-spirited circus owner didn't get them. Jefferson does sound interesting, someone who loved fine living that's for sure; he loved his wine, his food, his exotic animals, and his books. It is admirable that he pushed to end slavery. I hope the feelings were mutual between him and his mistress Sally Hemmings. I read that Sally Hemmings was only 14 when he began his relationship with her. I did read that Jefferson promised to free all of his and Hemming's children. I wonder if he did.

    • NateB11 profile image
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      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      I don't know the connection between slavery continuing and him trying to stop it and black people being enslaved, chipsball. In fact, they are disconnected. The fact is, this country was founded on many things that were corrupt and some things that were sound and good. How was it that he used people for his personal gain? I'm not doubting it, I'm honestly inquiring. I don't think Jefferson was all good; obviously not. Not anymore than I am all good. I would question why he wanted to expand west and his treatment of Native-Americans, because that specifically is a discrepancy in regards to his assertion that we should have limited government. But you didn't get specific like that, chipsball; in fact, you generalized. I don't know how he used people for his personal gain because you haven't told me how he did; I don't know the connection between him wanting slavery ended, that slavery continued, and that black people suffered; in fact, those things are not related. I could fail to end my mother's dementia, but that doesn't make me wrong.

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      mbuggieh 3 years ago

      Jefferson was a complex man AND most importantly an 18th century man. We cannot judge him by 21st century standards, our 20/20 hindsight, or our present-mindedness.

      He is and will likely remain, as historian Joseph Ellis noted, the "American Sphinx".

    • chipsball profile image

      chipsball 3 years ago from Houston, Texas USA

      Jefferson used his fellow human beings for his personal gain. Nothing noble about that. Eloquent words alone don't define him...but his deeds and accomplishment. Slavery continued regardless of his efforts and those black folk bondage paid the price.

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