Today in History

Today in History: April 13

Let me describe to you a man, not yet forty, tall and with a mild and pleasing countenance…An American, who without ever having quitted his own country, is at once a musician, skilled in drawing; a geometrician, an astronomer, a natural philosopher, legislator, and statesmen…Sometimes natural philosophy, at others politicks or the arts were the topicks of our conversation, for no object had escaped Mr. Jefferson; and it seemed as if from his youth he had placed his mind, as he has done his house, on an elevated situation, from which he might contemplate the universe.

Description of a visit to Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in 1782 from Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 by the Marquis de Chastellux.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States, [detail],
Pendleton's Lithography after a painting by Gilbert Stuart, circa 1828.
Portraits of Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia. A member of the Continental Congress, he was the author of the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33.

Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence
Jefferson's Original Rough Draught of the Declaration of Independence,
Thomas Jefferson, June 1776.
From the Top Treasures section of the exhibition American Treasures of the Library of Congress

After the American colonies declared independence from Britain, Jefferson worked for the revision of the laws of his home state of Virginia in order to bring them into conformity with the principles he had articulated in the Declaration.

An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson,
broadside printed by Laidler, July 1786.
Section V: Religion and the State Governments in
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

Although he had drafted the state's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1777, Virginia's General Assembly postponed its passage. In January 1786, the bill was reintroduced and, with the support of James Madison, passed as An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.

In the election of 1800, Jefferson defeated his old friend John Adams to become the third president of the new United States. An inveterate collector of books, Jefferson sold his personal library to Congress in 1815 in order to rebuild the collection of the Congressional Library, destroyed by fire in 1814.

Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, Virginia,
John Collier, photographer, April 1943.
FSA/OWI Color Photographs, 1939-1945

The last years of his life were spent in retirement at Monticello, during which period he founded, designed, and directed the building of the University of Virginia.

Jurist, diplomat, writer, philosopher, architect, gardener, negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson requested that only three of his many accomplishments be noted on his tomb at Monticello: Author of the Declaration of American Independence; Author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom; And Father of the University of Virginia

University of Virginia
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, copyright 1909.
Taking the Long View, 1851-1991

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606-1827 includes approximately 27,000 documents, approximately 83,000 images, from the Jefferson papers. The Jefferson materials deposited in the Library of Congress comprise the largest collection of original Jefferson documents in the world. The online version of the collection also includes an essay on Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis, and timelines of Jefferson's life and of the records of Virginia's history.

  • To retrieve images of the correspondence of the Marquis de Chastellux, who visited Thomas Jefferson in 1782, search the Thomas Jefferson Papers on the keyword Chastellux.
  • For letters and documents related to the Virginia Act of Religious Freedom search the collection on religious freedom.