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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Thomas Jefferson Portraits

Official White House portrait, Thomas Jefferson, Rembrandt Peale
Thomas Jefferson, London, 1786,
Mather Brown, National Portrait Gallery
With the exception of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson may be the most revered man in American history. Notice I did not say the most revered president, though that's an important factor. It's not because he wrote most of the Declaration of Independence or that he was one of the founders of the University of Virginia, or that he was probably the most effective Secretary of State in the history of this country. It's not because he recognized a great real estate deal when he saw it (the Louisiana Purchase) or that he instigated the historic Louis and Clark Expedition to check out what we'd just bought from Franc;, or that he was a better than average architect, not to mention a scientist and first-rate intellectual. No, we recognize Jefferson as the second great-est American statesman simply because he was ALL of these things standing in just one pair of shoes. Born in 1743, today, April 13, 2016, would have been his 273rd. birthday.
Jefferson sat for many portrait artist during his eighty-three years.
Our third President of the United States was born at the family home in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia, the third of ten children. He was the son of Peter Jefferson, a plantation owner who died when Jefferson was fourteen. The future president began his educational training with local tutors hired by the family. In 1752, he began attending a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister. At age nine, he began studying Latin, Greek, and French. Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the age of sixteen where he studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy. He graduated, two years later in 1762. He studied law under Professor George Wythe so as to obtain his law license, while working as a law clerk in Wythe's office.
Jefferson demonstrated his skills as an architect not only in the creation of his home at Monticello, but in remodeling the Governor's Mansion in Williamsburg (top-left) as well as in planning the "Academic Village" and library at the University of Virginia near his home.
In 1768 Jefferson began construction of his primary residence, which he called Monticello (Italian for "Little Mountain"), on a hilltop overlooking his 5,000-acre plantation. Work was done mostly by local masons and carpenters, assisted by slaves. Jefferson moved into the still uncompleted, Palladian style, neoclassical home in 1770. Two years later, Jefferson married his third cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, a 23-year-old widow. During their ten years of marriage, Martha bore six children, only two of which lived to adulthood. Martha later suffered from ill health, including diabetes. Frequent childbirth further weakened her. In 1782, a few months after the birth of her last child, Martha Jefferson died at the age of thirty-three. After serving three years as Secretary of State, Jefferson returned to Monticello where he initiated a remodeling based on the architectural concepts he had acquired in France. The project continued throughout most of his presidency, resulting it the exquisite model of Neoclassical design (above) that survives today.

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris depicts Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams
preparing documents in Jefferson’s apartment in Philadelphia. Both before and after becoming president, Jefferson worked closely with virtually all the "founding fathers" as they
reached political compromises and struggled to give birth to a new nations.
Martha Jefferson Randolph, served as
her father's White House hostess.
After having served as colonial Governor of Virginia, and as a member of the Virginia legislature, Jefferson went on to serve as an envoy to England during the Rev-olutionary war, Secretary of State, Vice President under John Adams, and finally, in 1800 he was elected President by the House of Repre-sentatives due to a tie vote in the Electoral College, though it took thirty-six ballots to do so. Aaron Burr was his vice president. Though he got off to a rough start, Jefferson is today considered among the top three or four most historically significant pres-idents in the history of the United States. Jefferson, being a widower, called upon his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, to serve as his White House hostess. Back at that time, the job of President didn't pay very well. Jefferson covered many of his expenses out of his own pocket, thus leaving office in 1808 deeply in debt. Following the burning of the Library of Congress with the British invasion of Washington during the War of 1812, Jefferson sold his personal library to the government for $23,950, (a sizable sum of money at the time) which no doubt helped with his debts. I wonder why he didn't just write his memoir?

Thomas Jefferson, Edward E. Hlavka, Rapid City, SD

Thomas Jefferson, the Sage of Monticello,
George Stuart, one-quarter scale mixed
media figure.


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