Study Guide

The Jefferson Presidency People

  • Thomas Jefferson

    Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) drafted the Declaration of Independence for the Continental Congress and later served as the third President of the United States. 

    During the Revolution, he was elected Governor of Virginia, and later, he was appointed minister to France. While in France, he associated with many of that country's most progressive intellectuals and observed the beginnings of the French Revolution. He served as George Washington's Secretary of State until 1793, was elected vice president in 1796, and then president in 1801 and 1804.

    Jefferson's record of achievement as president was mixed. His acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from France doubled America's physical size. But his policies adopted in response to British and French harassment of American shipping alienated the citizens of northeastern states dependent on commerce, and contributed to the American-British tensions that would lead to the War of 1812.

  • James Madison

    James Madison (1751–1836) was the principal architect of the United States Constitution, then Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, and later, the fourth President of the United States. 

    During the Revolution, he helped draft Virginia's state constitution and served in the Continental Congress. In the years immediately following the war, he grew convinced that domestic and international disasters would follow unless the national government established by the Articles of Confederation was reformed, and therefore, joined those calling for a Constitutional Convention. 

    He teamed with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to publish the Federalist Papers, which encouraged voters to ratify the new federal Constitution.

    As President Jefferson's Secretary of State, Madison exercised great influence on Jefferson's foreign policy. He encouraged Jefferson to secure from Congress the embargo that suspended American trade in December 1807. Over the next year, as opposition to this policy mounted, Jefferson largely deferred to Madison on all foreign policy decisions. 

    Despite the unpopularity of the administration's policies in New England, Madison was elected president in 1808 by more than a two-to-one margin in the Electoral College.

  • John Marshall

    John Marshall (1755–1835) was the third Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from 1801 until his death in 1835. 

    Born in Virginia, he served in the Continental Army during the Revolution. After the war, he practiced law in Virginia. Marshall turned down George Washington's invitation to serve as his first Attorney General, but he took part in the so-called "XYZ" delegation to France in 1797 to 1798, represented his Virginia district in the House of Representatives from 1799 to 1800, and briefly served as Secretary of State under John Adams from1800 to 1801. 

    John Adams named Marshall to the Supreme Court in the final months of his presidency.

    Often labeled the "father" of the Supreme Court, Marshall made unparalleled contributions to the shaping of the Court and the clarification of its powers during his 34-year term. In Marbury v. Madison, Marshall's court asserted the power of judicial review. His court also established a broad understanding of Congress' powers to regulate commerce in Gibbon v. Ogden. And in McCulloch v. Maryland, the Court asserted a broad reading of Congress' implied powers under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

  • Aaron Burr

    Aaron Burr (1756–1836) served as Vice President of the United States from 1801 to 1805. During the Revolution, he participated in the failed invasion of Canada and served on General George Washington's staff. After the war, he quickly rose in New York state politics; Thomas Jefferson selected him as his running mate in the 1800 election in order to secure the votes of that pivotal state.

    Burr actually tied Jefferson in the presidential election, forcing the contest into the House of Representatives. Federalists plotted to hand the election to Burr in exchange for influence. Burr's failure to immediately reject these overtures angered Jefferson. In 1805, Jefferson replaced Burr on the Republican ticket with George Clinton.

    In 1804, Burr challenged his Federalist rival Alexander Hamilton to a duel upon learning the former Secretary of the Treasury had attacked his integrity. In their duel, Hamilton was killed.

    In 1806, Burr joined a plot that led to his being tried for treason. He was accused of trying to break off the southwestern states from the Union; in defense, Burr argued that he was only trying to bring Mexico into the Union. Acquitted in his trial, Burr spent the next four years in Europe before returning to the United States in 1812. He practiced law in New York until his death in 1836.

  • Sally Hemings

    Sally Hemings (1773–1835) was a slave at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation with whom Jefferson almost certainly maintained a long sexual relationship. 

    It's believed she was the daughter of John Wayles, a white plantation owner, and his slave, Betty Hemings. John Wayles' white daughter, Martha, married Thomas Jefferson in 1772, which meant that Jefferson's wife and his slave mistress were likely half-sisters.

    A companion and maid to Jefferson's daughters, in 1787, Sally accompanied nine-year old Polly Jefferson to France, where Thomas Jefferson was serving as United States minister. After returning to Monticello in 1789, she labored as a house servant and seamstress. Between 1795 and 1808, she bore six children who were light-skinned and reputedly bore a striking resemblance to Jefferson. 

    DNA tests published in 1998 suggested that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of her youngest child, Eston Hemings, and probably the father of the other five as well. Jefferson's records reveal he was present at Monticello nine months prior to the birth of all six. The same records don't suggest that a male relative, with similar DNA, was present at these times.

    Four of Sally's children survived into adulthood and all were eventually freed by Jefferson, two of them in his will. No other group of slave siblings at Monticello was freed by Jefferson. Sally wasn't freed in Jefferson's will, but Jefferson's white daughter, Martha, permitted Sally to leave the plantation and live with her sons after Thomas Jefferson's death.