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Thomas Jefferson -English Honours 12 Essay, Research Paper

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence,

a principle leader in the American Revolution, and the third president of the

United States of America. Jefferson was also regarded as a great thinker and

diplomat, and was a renowned contributor to the foundation of the country.

Jefferson was well educated, an active committeeman, a skillful

draftsman and had a wide range of knowledge of English history and political

philosophy. His wisdom in various areas helped him to add substance to his

beliefs, which other philosophers theory’s lacked. Jefferson was among the

most brilliant American exponents of the Enlightenment; the movement of

the eighteenth century which emphasized the possibilities of human reason.

Jefferson had the motivation and the opportunity to apply Enlightenment

political philosophy to the duty of nation-building.

The Declaration of Independence, drafted principally by Jefferson, is

the document in which American citizens proclaimed their freedom from the

British Rule. The Declaration’s expressive diction and political importance,

rank it as one of the greatest historical documents produced. Jefferson sought

to reform society, in terms of the philosophy of the Enlightenment and of

republican government. He strongly believed in the, “preservation of the

general government in it’s whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of

our peace at home and safety abroad” (Declaration of Independence). He

emphasized that with a strong government, which supported the natural

rights of the American citizens and a united country, society would be

preserved as well. The content of the Declaration of Independence greatly

impacted the lives of American citizens and changed the way society


In the first sections of the Declaration of Independence, “Life, liberty

and the pursuit of happiness”, are regarded as the basic principles in a free

country. Jefferson emphasized his belief that the purpose of the government

is to defend, establish and protect the natural rights of society. The

government, in Jefferson’s opinion, should promote the happiness and

freedom of the American citizens. Jefferson held the view that, ” The equal

rights of men, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged

to be the only legitimate objects of government”. The main point of the

Declaration of Independence, was to justify self-government and to support

the American citizen’s right to exercise self-government, individually, and as

a nation.

During the revolutionary era, Jefferson studied Enlightenment

philosophy, which inspired him to support the Patriots. One of his most noted

contributions to their cause was an extremely effective pamphlet, “A

Summary View of Rights of British America” (1774). in this he emphasized

the natural rights of the people and denied parliamentary authority over the

colonies. He believed that the United States had no link with Britain, other

than the King. After, “A Summary View of the Rights of British America”,

was published, Jefferson’s authorship became well-known, and he came to be

acknowledged as a successful political theorist.

Popular sovereignty, self-government and democracy were regarded as

extremely important, by Jefferson. He believed that with those aspects the

people would ensure that the government would stay on the right track. It also

meant that the government would be responsive to the will of the people.

Jefferson was of the opinion that, ” A representative government is one in

which the will of the people is an effective ingredient” (Thomas Jefferson to

Benjamin Austin, 1816). Jefferson believed that the government in a free

society is not any different from the citizens. Under American self-

government, the citizen, himself, is part of the government. Jefferson defined

self-government as one in which, “every member composing it, has a voice”.

He knew that if each citizen held the right of self-government, then a united

country posses the same right. As Jefferson pointed out, “What is true of

every member in society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since

the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the

individuals” (Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789)

It was believed by Jefferson that by placing power in the hands of the

people who are concerned for the rights and lives of society, the government

becomes the ultimate protection for the liberty of the people. Jefferson’s main

desire was to establish liberty. He wanted the government to go beyond

mearly protecting individual right, but to become a representative front for

the United States. Jefferson stated that the principle purpose of the

government was, “to inform the minds of the people, and to follow their will”

(Thomas Jefferson to C.F. Dumas, 1787).

Thomas Jefferson died at Monticello, Virginia, on July 4, 1826, on the

fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He was an

Americain Revolutionary leader and an invaluable contributer to building the

foundation for the United States of America. His primary committments to

liberty, democracy and the formation of self-goveremnt were accomplished.

He succeeded his intent, which was to help found a nation in which liberty

was strongly established. Jefferson brought America beyond the primitive

right to property, to the pursuit of happiness. The Americain goverment never

quite achieved the vision which Jefferson had for it, however, even in it’s

limited accomplishment, it continues to have much of the spirit and essence

which Jefferson inspired.

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