Study Guide

Thomas Jefferson Biography

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For a guy who's been dead for almost 200 years, he sure gets around a lot. You probably have a couple pictures of him in your pocket right now. You can see him in Hollywood, on Broadway, and even on TV—his second HBO miniseries is currently in production.blank">Declaration of Independence (which was thought to be a divine sign!), he has been a symbol for democratic equality. Just mention "Thomas Jefferson" and listen to the catchphrases pour out: equality and freedom; self-governance; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His name alone evokes a vision.

This would be all well and good if there were only a name. But behind that long-dead name, there was once a living man, and what that man did doesn't always seem to match up with what the name has come to stand for. Jefferson-the-name stands for freedom, but Jefferson-the-man kept slaves—lots of them. Jefferson-the-name stands for equality, but Jefferson-the-man believed that some people were naturally better than others, and some races naturally better than others too. Jefferson-the-name stands for popular self-government, but Jefferson-the-man believed in a natural aristocracy, destined to rule over the unqualified rabble.

So what's the deal? How did a slaveholding aristocrat from Virginia come to stand for the radical promise of freedom and equality?



Declaration of Independence

Governor of Virginia & Minister to France

vs. Alexander Hamilton

And James Madison

President Jefferson

Monticello, University of Virginia & Death



Work Experience

Major Works


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