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Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America for the central role he played in drafting the Declaration of Independence. During the American Revolution, Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia and, after the war, he was appointed minister to France. He also served as the nation's first secretary of state, its second vice president, and its third president.

Thomas Jefferson authored the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, which prohibited slavery in the territories north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River. It may seem surprising that a Virginia planter who owned slaves and publicly defended the institution would propose such a measure, but Jefferson, like many slaveholders from the Upper South, envisioned an eventual end to slavery over time. Furthermore, he and his colleagues thought it best to limit land-grabbing planters and to prevent the migration of slaves into new territory. Southerners, particularly planters from the Deep South, opposed any concessions that might weaken the institution and threaten their rights as property holders. For this reason, the Northwest Ordinance drove the first major wedge between the increasingly "free" North and much of the slaveholding South.

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