Who was he: In the thick of party conflict in 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a private letter, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
Jefferson found his voice on parchment rather than as a public speaker. At 33, he drafted the Declaration of Independence. He then did what he could to apply its precepts in his home state of Virginia. In 1768, he wrote the bill that legislated religious freedom in Virginia.
In 1785, Jefferson became the US minister to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin. Ten years later as a reluctant candidate for president in 1796, Jefferson came close to winning. Instead, he became nice president even though he opposed President John Adams.
In 1800, Jefferson assumed the US presidency and promptly put his free-market sympathies to work. He cut military expenditures and eliminated the despised whisky tax.
He could use government power, as well; Jefferson put to sea a naval squadron that pursued and eventually vanquished the Barbary pirates who were holding ships for ransom in the Mediterranean. He also acquired the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803, something he believed was unconstitutional but necessary to the growth and safety of the country.
Background: Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia. He inherited some 5,000 acres of land on which Jefferson would later build his beloved home, Monticello. Initially home-schooled, he attended the College of William and Mary and then studied law.
On entering politics, Jefferson was drawn to the Democratic-Republicans who opposed what became known as the Federalists who believed in strong national power. Jefferson was a decentralizer who championed the rights of the states.
While Jefferson did things during his presidency that were not in keeping with his convictions, his repugnance toward militarism remained. He fought hard to keep the US out of the Napoleonic wars and even took some unpopular steps to ensure America would remain "unentangled."
Jefferson eventually retired to Monticello, which virtually bankrupted him. His final years were marked by money troubles, along with considerable planning for the University of Virginia, which he helped support and sustain with his still-considerable public image. Thomas Jefferson died, ironically, on July 4, 1826.