Thomas Jefferson Essay

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With historic accomplishments ranging from Founding Father and third president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence, architect of the Louisiana Purchase, and visionary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Thomas Jefferson also made great contributions to education in America.

Jefferson was born in 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia, to a wealthy and prominent family. He attended the College of William and Mary from 1760– 1762, then studied law. He was admitted to practice law in Virginia in 1767 and the following year was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, which began his political career. He was propelled onto the national scene in 1774 with the publication of A Summary View of the Rights of British America and in 1775 was elected to the Continental Congress.

Jefferson believed that a stable democracy was possible only with an educated citizenry and was a lifetime advocate of free public education. He had a uniquely American conception of education as a tool for democracy, from the elementary schools through the university level. In 1778, as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, he wrote A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge. Although his plan was not adopted, it provided for free basic universal education, free education at an advanced level for selected students, and free tuition to William and Mary College for a more limited number of students.

Jefferson’s Enlightenment-era philosophy did not apply to everyone, however. Jefferson was a plantation owner and held slaves. He also did not include women in his proposals for universal education.

After his second term as president ended in 1809, Jefferson concentrated on a variety of other projects. An intellectual and scholar of history, philosophy, architecture, languages, and the natural sciences, Jefferson amassed the largest private library collection in the United States, totaling more than 6,400 volumes. In 1815, Jefferson sold his library to the United States in order to replace the books destroyed when the British burned the Library of Congress.

In 1816, construction on the University of Virginia began. Jefferson worked tirelessly, personally designing the original campus and working to raise funds. Jefferson saw this vision completed in 1825. He died on July 4, 1826. In creating his own epitaph, Jefferson closed with the line “Father of the University of Virginia.”


  1. Hellenbrand, H. (1990). The unfinished revolution: Education and politics in the thought of Thomas Jefferson. Newark: University of Delaware Press.
  2. Heslep, R. D. (1969). Thomas Jefferson & education. New York: Random House.

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