Interesting Fun Facts About Thomas Jefferson
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.
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?
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.
...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.
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.