Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was born 271 years ago this month. Here are 10 ways he contributed to American life and politics.
1. Wrote The Declaration of Independence (1776)
Thomas Jefferson was appointed by Congress to a five-person committee in charge of writing The Declaration of Independence. The other four members were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. Jefferson was responsible for writing the first draft—within 17 days, the draft document was written, reviewed and revised by the committee, and presented to Congress.
2. Wrote The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1777)
Jefferson considered The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to be one of his greatest accomplishments. This document, which was introduced into the Virginia General Assembly in 1779, declared freedom of religion a “natural right” and became a model for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
3. Advocated for free public education (1779)
Jefferson was an early advocate of having an informed populace. In 1779, he wrote A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, which outlined a plan for establishing Virginia public schools where “all the free children, male and female” were to be given three years of instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, and history. The bill was defeated in the state legislature, but it laid the groundwork for free public education.
4. Served as the first U.S. Secretary of State (1790–1793)
Jefferson served as the country’s first Secretary of State under President George Washington. In this office, he advocated for each state to pay its own portion of the Revolutionary War debt and supported France in its war with Britain, though he believed the United States should maintain neutrality in the conflict.
5. Made the Louisiana Purchase (1803)
In 1803 as President of the United States, Jefferson purchased more than 800, 000 square miles of Louisiana Territory from France for about $15 million, effectively doubling the size of the United States.