Study Guide

Thomas Jefferson in Alien and Sedition Acts

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Thomas Jefferson

If the Founding Fathers were the Avengers, Thomas Jefferson would be Iron Man. He was a multi-billionaire playboy genius who was famous for living in Monticello, a lavish estate in Malibu, California.

…or at least the way we portray him in our 3,000 page Thomas Jefferson fanfic novel.

He did live at Monticello, but it was a plantation in Virginia. A brilliant inventor, he also wasn't a fan of authority, so much so that he penned the document that told King George III exactly where to go…and what to do when he got there.

He's not the central actor in the drama of the Alien and Sedition Acts, but he played an important role. It was tough for Jefferson to get near history without affecting it in some way. He basically had a history-making force field around him at all times.

Jefferson's Origins

The eventual third president was born to American aristocracy. Both of his parents were from wealthy families, and he grew up on a large plantation in Virginia. His early education was good but haphazard. Basically, he went to school sometimes and was home schooled at other times. Fortunately, he was pretty much a genius, and this worked out. In 1760 he went to college. He returned to Virginia and practiced law from 1767-1774. (Source)

In '72 he met and married widow Martha Wayles Skelton. They would eventually have six children, but tragically only two (Martha and Mary) lived to adulthood. He does have some other descendants, fathered in his famous extra-marital affair with his slave Sally Hemings. To make everything just a touch weirder, Hemings was a half-sister to Martha. (Source)

You want an awkward Thanksgiving? There you go.

Getting on the Revolution Train

Despite his pretty cushy position at the top of the colonies' social ladder, Jefferson was all about revolution.

As soon as Britain started with the taxes (basically to recoup expenses from the French and Indian War), Jefferson thought this whole British-rule thing needed to stop. He joined the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1768 and quickly became a political ally of Patrick Henry and George Washington. Jefferson was a lock for the Continental Congress.

His defining achievement is writing the Declaration of Independence. Despite the fact that Jefferson served in the nation's top three offices (and is generally considered a resounding success at all three), the only thing he wanted on his tombstone was that he wrote the Declaration and founded the University of Virginia. (Source)

To Jefferson, that was the important stuff. Everything else was just an echo of those two concepts, of freedom and education.

In fact, the Continental Congress appointed a five man committee, consisting of Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston to do it, and they gave the job of the rough draft to TJ himself. Jefferson ended up doing a really good job. (Source)

The following year (1777), Jefferson wrote another important document—the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom—which established the doctrine of Separation of Church and State.

We weren't lying when we told you this guy was brilliant.

Politics, Politics, Politics

While the Revolution was still...revolving, Virginia elected Jefferson to be its governor. He was pretty clearly the natural choice—especially since Washington was off in the wilderness trying not to get shot by redcoats. After his term as governor, he spent a term in Congress of the Confederation (the United States didn't exist yet), and served as Minister to France.

Jefferson returned to America and Washington appointed him Secretary of State. Jefferson didn't get along with Alexander Hamilton (that guy rubbed a lot of people the wrong way), the Secretary of the Treasury. Jefferson then founded the Democratic-Republicans as a foil to Hamilton's Federalists. Basically, this was the conflict between local government (Jefferson), and Federal power (Hamilton).

Jefferson then served as a contentious Vice President to the Federalist Adams. Jefferson and Adams clashed over, well, pretty much everything. While both were intelligent and principled, they had totally different ideas over what made a good government. Jefferson correctly saw the Alien and Sedition Acts as an assault on freedom (and not coincidentally, an assault on Jefferson's political power) and fought them, most notably through the Kentucky Resolution.

The election of 1800 was weird. Though Jefferson easily defeated Adams, he ended up tied with Aaron Burr for the presidency. The House of Representatives broke the tie in Jefferson's favor, after some strong lobbying from Hamilton. Hamilton disliked Jefferson, but he hated Burr. (Source)

Jefferson's presidency is widely regarded as a success, though it's not without irony. When Jefferson presided over the Louisiana Purchase, an act that vastly enlarged the United States, he was lucky that his Vice President wasn't uh, himself.

The Jefferson under Adams never would have backed this play, as it's a huge expansion of Federal power. President Jefferson, however, saw it as the right move.

To the End

Jefferson served two terms, and unlike his friend and rival Adams, was able to retire with his reputation largely intact. Jefferson's close ally James Madison succeeded him as president. The Federalists were broken, and until the Whigs coalesced around opposition to Andrew Jackson, the U.S. was largely a one-party political system.

Jefferson died on his estate of Monticello on Independence Day, the fiftieth anniversary of his most famous act.

Want to learn even more about this Founding Father? Check out our Thomas Jefferson biography guide.

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