Jefferson was born in Shadwell in the British Colony of Virginia on April 13, 1743 (at the time the nation was using the old Julian Calendar, and the date was marked as April 2). At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781. After the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France. Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State from 1790 to 1793 in the Cabinet of President George Washington. In opposition to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Party, Jefferson and his close friend, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and he later resigned from Washington's cabinet.
Jefferson was elected Vice President in 1796, when he finished second to President John Adams of the Federalists. Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts which were passed under Adams.
He was elected president in the hotly contested election of 1800. As President he oversaw acquisition of the vast Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, and he sent out the Lewis and Clark Expedition and later three others, to explore the new west. Jefferson doubled the size of the United States during his presidency.
His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr. Jefferson faced escalating trouble with Britain who was challenging American neutrality and threatening American shipping at sea. He tried economic warfare with his embargo laws, but these just damaged American trade. In 1803, President Jefferson initiated a process of Indian tribal removal to the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, having opened lands for eventual American settlers. In 1807 Jefferson drafted and signed into law a bill that banned slave importation into the United States.
Jefferson was a very intelligent man. John F. Kennedy once quipped, at a White House gathering of Nobel Prize winners, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Jefferson spoke five languages and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy and was an active member and later president of the American Philosophical Society. These interests led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello, and the University of Virginia's original buildings. Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his life.
Jefferson expressed opposition to slavery, but his actions did not match his words on this front. He owned hundreds of slaves and freed only a few of them. There were allegations that he fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings. DNA tests in 1998, together with historical research, suggest he fathered at least one.
In his later life he resumed his friendship with John Adams and the two men enjoyed a lively correspondence together. In June of 1826 Jefferson's health took a turn for the worse and he was unable to accept an invitation to attend a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On the night of July 3rd, after sleeping, Jefferson later awoke at eight o'clock that evening and spoke his last words, "Is it the fourth yet?". His doctor replied, "It soon will be".
On July 4, at ten minutes before one o'clock in the afternoon, Jefferson died at the age of 83, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He died just a few hours before John Adams, whose own last words were said to be "Thomas Jefferson survives."
Jefferson's funeral was held July 5, performed by Reverend Charles Clay. The funeral was a simple and quiet affair, in accordance with Jefferson's wishes. Jefferson wrote his own epitaph, which reads:
HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.