Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Truly a Man of the People

Magnet # 216:  Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Photo

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Virginia, third President of the United States, father of the University of Virginia, and master of Monticello was born on this day in 1743. Over the next 83 years, he would go onto witness the birth of a nation and have the unique opportunity to greatly contribute to its development.  Even now, our nation still turns to Jefferson and the ideals he left behind to help determine our future.

Jefferson was born to a wealthy family in central Virginia.  By the time he was 14, his father had passed away and he was made head of his family.  He attended the College of William and Mary, which contributed greatly to his thinking, and became a lawyer upon his graduation.  He later married Martha Wayles Skelton and they had six children before she passed away.  It is said he won her over with his skill at the violin.  He never remarried - however, it seems almost certain that he had a very long affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, who gave birth to his children. Some even believe that she was the half-sister of his deceased wife, as Hemings' mother belonged to Jefferson's father-in-law and she was light-skinned and biracial.  Their relationship seems to have began when Jefferson served as minister to France.  By then, he had already served as a leader of the American Revolution, serving as the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence.  During the Revolutionary War, he did not participate in any fighting - apparently, that was one talent he didn't possess.  Instead, he worked as a lawmaker in Virginia, later becoming its Governor and a Congressman.  But after Jefferson returned from France, he truly rose to prominence on a national level, becoming Secretary of State for George Washington and John Adam's Vice President.  Although very often in his life he simply wanted to stay at his home and farm, staying out of the political arena, whenever his country called on him, Jefferson always rose to the occasion.  And in 1801, he was finally elected to the office of President.  He served two terms, trying to adhere to his belief that the government should not play a major role in the lives of its citizens.  Under his guidance, the United States Navy humbled the Barbary pirates in Tripoli, the Northwest Territory expanded rapidly, and the Louisiana Purchase was made.  In one move, Jefferson nearly doubled the nation's size.  He also had to deal with the fallout of his Vice President Aaron Burr killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel and keeping the young nation out of the war between Britain and France.  Finally, at the age of 65, he retired from the presidency.  In his later years, he stayed mostly at Monticello, giving advice to subsequent Presidents, creating inventions, and, most importantly, helping create the University of Virginia.  He passed away at Monticello on July 4, 1826 - 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was created.  Even more strange, John Adams, who had once been a rival to Jefferson, passed that same day, just a few hours after Jefferson.  In his last words, he remarked at his relief that Jefferson was still alive.  

One of Jefferson's greatest achievements in his personal life was the creation of his neoclassical mansion, Monticello, which still stands in Virginia. I was able to see it for myself last year, and I was very impressed. It's on the top of a mountain, and as I'm used to the flat Low Country of Savannah, the drive up was a little nerve-wracking. Even more incredible is the thought that so many antiques and building materials were carried up it by horse-driven wagons. And when I asked our guide how carriages could have made it up that mountain, he said we'd taken the easy route up! And, yes, the house is every bit as gorgeous as it looks on this magnet. True to Jefferson's character, it's filled with unusual, innovative details, such as beds that are tucked into nooks and staircases hidden away behind doors. He wanted to utilize as much space in his home as possible. Some of his unusual creations are still there, like his revolving book stand and automatic doors. And the grounds are equally impressive - I was one of the first ones there that morning and watching the Sun rise on Monticello's vineyards was stunning. Later, our guide pointed out a parting between the trees through which the University of Virginia is visible. And it was a very reasonable price to tour this landmark that's considered a place every American should see - I paid about twenty dollars. Later, when I bought this magnet and another in the gift shop, it was an interesting experience. I remember a nickel being among what I handed the cashier, which actually features an image of Monticello on the back. It's not often you have the opportunity to spend money at a place that's represented on it, buying an item with the same location on it! If you're able to see Monticello in person, I highly recommend it. It's also very close to two other historical landmarks - the Michie Tavern and Ash-Lawn Highland, the home of former President James Monroe. All in all, a trip to Monticello and nearby Charlottesville, Virginia is an excellent vacation for any history buffs out there.

There is no doubt that Jefferson had a considerable impact on the course of our country's history. Without him, would we have ever made the Louisiana Purchase, nearly doubling the size of the United States?  Would the Bill of Rights, which he championed, have never been passed without his insistence?   And would the nation's capitol have even been located in Washington D.C, a compromise he helped create?  One fact is certain - with his superior intellect and creative ability, there are many fields in which Thomas Jefferson would have excelled. Fortunately for all of us in the United States, politics received the majority of his attention.

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